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George Elmer Pataki was born in the city of Peekskill, New York in Westchester County to Louis P. Pataki (whose parents were Hungarian immigrants) and Margaret Lagana (of half Italian and half Irish descent). He graduated from Yale University, where he was an active member of the Yale Political Union in 1967, and is a 1970 graduate of Columbia Law School. After graduating, he took up private law practice in the state, which he maintained until his gubernatorial election in 1994. Pataki began his political career with his 1981 election as Mayor of Peekskill, New York, in Westchester County. He served in that role until 1984, when he won his seat in the New York State Assembly. After winning re-election three times, Pataki challenged the incumbent Republican State Senator Mary Goodhue in 1992. The ensuing primary battle gained interest within New York State Republican circles; Goodhue was at the time an established politico, the only female Republican State Senator, and credited herself with launching Pataki's career in Albany, having hired him as staff. Pataki won the seat. It is around this time that Pataki is believed to have gained the favor of high-ranking Republican members, including then-U.S. Senator from New York Al D'Amato and then-Republican Party Chairman William Powers. It was with their blessing and Arthur J. Finkelstein as his campaign manager that he ran for Governor in 1994 against three-term incumbent Governor Mario Cuomo. Cuomo was a nationally known figure who had been widely discussed as the Democratic candidate for the 1992 Presidential election before the emergence of Bill Clinton. In campaigning, Pataki mostly stayed within the lines of the state party's historical Rockefeller Republican philosophy with a platform built to sap Cuomo's strength in suburban sections of the state. This platform included planks emphasizing conservative solutions to problems such as unemployment and violent crime, but avoided national controversies on issues such as abortion that had been considered settled within New York. Largely keeping to this strategy, Pataki had two successful re-election campaigns in 1998 and 2002. Among the few changes from his first election, the most noticible was a change in running mates, ousting Lieutenant Governor Betsy McCaughey Ross, who proved to be controversial once in office, in favor of upstater Mary O. Donohue, a former educator and New York State Supreme Court justice from Rensselaer County, in 1998. He defeated the Democratic candidate Peter Vallone, Sr. 54%-33%, and in 2002 received 49% of the vote while Democrat Carl McCall received 33% and independent candidate Tom Golisano received 14%. Pataki and his wife, Libby Pataki, now have four children, and their family home is in Garrison, New York.
During the first years of Pataki's administration, he began to institute the major spending cuts which he has advocated for most of his career. In 1999, Governor Pataki signed into law comprehensive health care legislation that provided health insurance coverage, under Family Health Plus, to lower income adults who do not have health insurance through their employers. In July 2000, Pataki's name surfaced on the short list to be the running mate for Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush, along with the names of Governor John Engler of Michigan, Governor Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania, former Senator John Danforth of Missouri, and former American Red Cross President Elizabeth Dole. Bush eventually selected the man who was in charge of scouting vice presidential candidates, former Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney. In 2003 Pataki made a controversial budget proposal in which he proposed several tax cuts, despite the state's rising deficits. He also made cuts in education and health care funding which, some say, may close emergency rooms and turn non-profit hospitals into for-profits. Pataki argued that new taxes would drive businesses out-of-state, reducing jobs, further compounding the deficit problem. In August 2004 Pataki introduced President George W. Bush at the 2004 Republican National Convention at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan. A year prior, Pataki had boasted Bush would carry the state in the 2004 elections; Bush lost New York 58-40 to John Kerry. Later, on November 22, 2004, he named the living former presidents honorary members of the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation, Inc., an independent non-profit corporation chartered to create a memorial to the victims and rescue workers of the September 11, 2001 attacks at the World Trade Center site. Pataki has always been moderate on social issues but by his third term many social conservatives simmered over his continued support of abortion rights as well as his heavy lobbying in favor of a gay rights bill which had languished in the state Senate for many years due to the opposition of Senate Leader, Joseph Bruno, from conservative upstate Rensselaer County, New York. In 2003 Bruno finally gave in and the bill passed the senate and was signed into law by Pataki. In the 2004 elections, not only did Republicans' hope of Bush carrying the state fail to materialize, but Senator Charles Schumer, a Democrat, won 71% in his reelection bid when he obliterated the Republican nominee, Assemblyman Howard Mills. In addition, Democrats picked up one Congressional seat, gained seats in the state legislature, and in many local races across the state. Many Republicans such as Congressman Peter T. King blamed Pataki and what they viewed as his aimlessness as causing the rout. Pataki replaced some advisors and the state party replaced their chairman. In 2005, Pataki enjoyed some positive publicity when the state passed its first on-time budget in twenty-one years, but he continued to suffer from low approval ratings, as well as Republican losses in local races that November, especially on Long Island, which was key to Pataki's three victories. On July 27, 2005, Pataki announced his intention not to seek a fourth term as governor in 2006. Along with several meetings with donors, trips to states important for their primaries, and an August 2005 veto of a bill that would allow sale of the morning-after pill, this fuels speculation that Pataki will seek the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, although, his "morning-after" pill veto notwithstanding, he may still be too moderate for the party's grassroots conservatives to win the nomination. Cabinet Members As of February 2006 Director of Aging: Neil E. Lane Acting Commissioner of Agriculture: Patrick Brennan Superintendant of Banks: Diana Taylor Director of the Budget: John F. Cape Chief Information Officer: Michael R. Mittleman Commissioner of Children and Family Services: John A. Johnson Civil Service Commissioner President: Daniel E. Wall Commissioner of Correctional Services: Glenn Goord Director of Criminal Justice Services: Chauncey Parker Commissioner of Empire State Development: Charles Gargano Commissioner of Environmental Conservation: Denise Sheehan Commissioner of General Services: Daniel Hogan Director of Small Cities: Glen King Commissioner of Health: Antonia Novello Director of Homeland Security: James McMahon Commissioner of Human Rights: Michelle Donaldson Superintendant of Insurance: Howard Mills Commissioner of Mental Health: Sharon Carpinello Commissioner of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities: Thomas Maul Commissioner of Motor Vehicles: Nancy Naples Commissioner of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation: Bernadette Castro Public Service Commissioner Chairman: William Flynn Racing and Wagering Board Chairwoman: Cheryl Ritchko-Buley Acting Secretary of State: Frank Milano Tax Appeals Tribunal President: Charles Nesbitt Commissioner of Taxation and Finance: Andrew Eristoff Commissioner of Transportation: Thomas Madison Director of Veterans Affairs: George Basher
Liberty Medal Awards
Empire State Pride Agenda Fall Dinner 2003