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New York's
gay-friendly governor won't seek reelection

New York's
gay-friendly governor won't seek reelection


George Pataki, a gay-friendly Republican who has served three terms as governor of New York, said he will not seek a fourth term in next year's race, while leaving open the possibility of a presidential bid in 2008.

George Pataki, a gay-friendly Republican who brought down Democratic icon Mario Cuomo in 1994 to become governor of New York, said Wednesday he would not seek a fourth term next year, and "come 2007, I will follow a new path, find new challenges." While Pataki is eyeing a possible run for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination, he told the Associated Press, "That's for down the road. I'm not ruling anything in or out, but my goal is to be the best governor I can be for the next year and a half."

Later, the nation's longest currently serving governor told several hundred cheering supporters and rank-and-file state employees crowded into a large room at the state capitol that he would call it quits after three terms. "We've done a lot together, and yet there is always more to do," he said. "But there is one thing I've understood from my very first day in public office: That as elected officials we are only temporary stewards of the people's trust." Pataki said he was pleased with the state of the state.

Recent polls in New York had shown Pataki trailing state attorney general Eliot Spitzer, a Democrat, in a possible 2006 gubernatorial matchup, and the governor's approval rating had slipped to an all-time low among New York voters earlier this year. Democrats were quick to claim that Pataki was getting out while he could, and even some Republicans shared that feeling. "We should all be clear about this--if he thought he could be reelected, he'd run again," said Howard Wolfson, a strategist for the state Democratic Party. "George Pataki both defeated Mario Cuomo and learned from Mario Cuomo," said Republican strategist Nelson Warfield. "Cuomo left office seeking a fourth term and went out a loser. Now George Pataki will retire from state politics undefeated."

Pataki said he simply felt it was the "right time" to step aside. "We've been through very tough times since 2001," he told the AP, referring to the terrorist attacks that brought down the World Trade Center towers and killed nearly 3,000 people. "And now I can look at the future of the state with the confidence that you should have."

The governor broke the news to more than two dozen current and former aides and advisers at a dinner Tuesday night at the Executive Mansion in Albany that was attended by state GOP chairman Stephen Minarik and state Conservative Party chairman Michael Long. Pataki was to meet with top financial supporters, who could bankroll a presidential bid, Wednesday night in New York City.

Pataki loyalists have talked up his chances of winning the presidency, but Warfield said the governor's liberal bent on social issues--he supports abortion and gay rights--would not sell in the heartland. "I think he has very limited appeal as a national candidate, as a Republican," said Warfield, a top aide on Bob Dole's unsuccessful 1996 presidential run.

Nonetheless, House speaker Dennis Hastert called Pataki "a true public servant" and said the New York governor "has a bright future in the Republican Party." Rep. Thomas Reynolds, a powerful New York Republican with long ties to Pataki, said he was encouraging the governor to explore a 2008 presidential bid. "I've always said it's tough to be governor of New York and test the waters for the presidency," said Reynolds.

Pataki has been under pressure from some fellow Republicans and others to make a decision about his intentions to give the party a chance to be competitive against the high-profile Spitzer. Already, aides to Rudolph Giuliani, the marquee Republican of New York politics, have said the former New York City mayor is too busy with private business interests to run for governor. Giuliani has been leading in national polls looking at the race for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination.

And billionaire Michael Bloomberg, the current Republican mayor of New York City, said earlier this week he has no interest in the governorship. Without Pataki, Giuliani, and Bloomberg, the New York GOP may be scrambling for a competitive candidate for governor. Former Massachusetts governor William Weld, who moved back to his native New York five years ago, has said he would seriously look at running if Pataki bowed out. There has even been some talk of the party turning to billionaire B. Thomas Golisano, who has already run three losing races for governor as the candidate of the Independence Party. Golisano spent $75 million of his own money on the 2002 race, mainly to beat up Pataki, and finished a distant third with 14% of the vote.

Pataki said Wednesday he had some ideas about who should be the GOP candidate but wasn't ready to make his feelings known. One potential candidate, Rep. John Sweeney, a former Pataki buddy who has become something of a critic, commended Pataki's service to the state but criticized his political leadership. "I look forward to joining with my fellow Republicans across New York, to rebuild our party's infrastructure, present a clear and compelling message about who we are as a party, and get back to electing Republicans who can provide solutions to the challenges facing our state," he said.

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