Politics 2005Week of February 21

Post-Pataki After 12 years in office and with record-low approval ratings, the betting is now overwhelming that New York Gov. George Pataki will shortly announce that he is not seeking re-election in 2006. Sources in Albany tell me that moderate Republican Pataki’s announcement will come after he and the Democratic-controlled legislature cobble together a budget this year, which is likely to happen no later than mid-summer. The increased speculation that Pataki–best known nationally for denying Democrat Gov. (1982-94) Mario Cuomo a fourth term in 1994–will not try for a fourth term comes as the New York Times reports that the Empire State chief executive is at his lowest level of popularity since his first year in office. According to the Times poll, only 33% of New York voters have a favorable opinion of Pataki’s performance–down from 52% just two years ago–and 38% of those surveyed had an unfavorable opinion. More significantly, two-term state Atty. Gen. Eliot Spitzer, the certain Democrat nominee, holds a handsome 59% job approval rating in the Times survey and, in a head-to-head race with Pataki, Spitzer leads 49% to 34% statewide. These Times figures are almost identical to those of a just-completed Siena College (N.Y.) survey that showed Spitzer defeating Pataki by a 51%-to-35% margin statewide. Concluded Siena Research Institute polling director Joe Caruso: “As things stand now, [Pataki] couldn’t get re-elected to a fourth term.” If not Pataki, then Rudy Giuliani, perhaps? Still basking in his reputation as a heroic “Winston Churchill in a Yankees’ cap” figure after 9/11, the former New York mayor (1993-2001) could almost count on getting the GOP nomination for governor without opposition and would probably be better than even money to defeat the formidable Spitzer. But it is almost impossible to find a Rudy-watcher in New York willing to wager that Giuliani will run for any elective office before making a try for President in 2008. One source close to the former mayor told me that, at a time when his name on a business deal or on the lecture circuit still commands major dollars, “Rudy loves making money,” and is not very likely to give that up for a run for office so quickly. So, minus Pataki or Giuliani, New York Republicans might well heed the oft-heard words of CBS’s Walter Cronkite in the 1970s: “Let’s go to Randy Daniels.” Good-bye, George; Here’s Randy! As a globe-trotting correspondent for CBS in the 1970s and ’80s, Randy Daniels was often called on from the anchor desk by Cronkite and later Dan Rather to report from the Middle East to South Africa. Old colleagues at the network recall him as a two-fisted reporter who despised the term “journalist,” a tireless worker and a gentleman. To television news fans in general, Daniels is memorable as one of the earliest network correspondents who happened to be black. After hanging up his microphone, Daniels rose to become a deacon in the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem (best known for its most famous pastor, Democrat Rep. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.), and got involved in Republican politics. Pataki appointed the former broadcaster as New York secretary of state, the top elections and regulatory office in the state. Following in the footsteps of such luminaries as Robert Moses (secretary of state under Gov. Al Smith), Edward Flynn (under Gov. Franklin D. Roosevelt), Carmine DeSapio (under Gov. Averell Harriman), and Mario Cuomo (under Gov. Hugh Carey), Daniels has forged an excellent reputation overseeing a $200-million annual budget and more than 800 employees. Like Spitzer in the state’s top legal job, Daniels as secretary of state has widespread contacts and influence that instantly make him a political force. He has the last word on more than 650,000 licenses, ranging from the real estate industry to cemeteries. Daniels’ office is also in charge of the state’s fire safety program and waterfront revitalization. “And we’ve added training to seek out weapons of mass destruction here in New York,” the secretary of state recently told me, noting that the multi-faceted office he holds “was here before we had a New York City.” If, as expected, the 59-year-old Pataki announces his retirement, will Daniels seek the Republican nod to succeed him? “Definitely,” he replied. Friends of Daniels have privately revealed that their man and the governor have had discussions about the ’06 campaign and that Pataki has encouraged Daniels to explore a race, if he should step down. Although the governor has yet to signal whom he would endorse, most Empire State Republican leaders that I have talked to say Daniels is light years ahead in pursuit of the nomination than either of the two fellow GOPers mentioned for governor–Lt. Gov. Mary Donahue and Rep. John Sweeney (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 88%). Tall, magnetic, with a stirring bass voice not unlike that of the late Ossie Davis, Daniels is generally characterized as more conservative than friend Pataki. He is, for example, an outspoken champion of charter schools and school vouchers, and, in his words, wants to “create as much competitiveness in government as possible to bring the cost of government down.” “GOP should stand for ‘Giving Opportunities to People,” he said. At a time when Democrats are increasingly carrying the Empire State with ease, prospective candidate Daniels pulls no punches in saying that his becoming only the second Republican nominee for governor, in any state, who is black is a critical asset to his party. As he told me: “Face it, there aren’t enough white people to elect a Republican statewide. I have no apologies for my civil rights record, and I would run strongest with Latin voters and Dominicans, the fastest-growing group in the state population.”