On June 25th I was present at a small luncheon gathering at The Lobster Tail Restaurant with former New York governor George Pataki, three of his New Hampshire campaign staff members, local Republican powerhouse Bruce Breton and longtime Breton friend, Lawson Brouse, and former state senator David Currier (R- Henniker).
Mr. Pataki, in town to present the Windham Fire Department with a flag flown at the site of the World Trade Center post 9/11, recently announced he is seeking the presidency, joining 13 other Republican candidates.
I was a New York resident for much of the 1990’s and I remember Mr. Pataki as governor. He was enormously popular with both residents and businesses. He had largely dropped out of public view after his 3rd term as governor ended in 2007.
Standing at nearly 6’5″ tall, Mr. Pataki is an impressive presence from the moment he enters the room. His voice is calm and soothing; His words pleasant.
He greeted a group of a dozen or so women out celebrating a birthday, who appeared delighted to meet him and interested in what he had to say before he joined us at our table.
Our discussion was enjoyable. Topics ranged from the personal to political.
It seemed odd to me he would enter what is shaping up to be a crowded presidential campaign stage after having spent so much time in the private sector. Running for president is no easy endeavor, even if you have endless funds. When a person runs for president everything they do and say and everything they have ever done or said is scrutinized. The schedule is exhausting- cookouts, town halls, debates, interviews and impromptu luncheons with local reporters. Given that Mr. Pataki has already secured his place in history as the governor who led the healing and rebuilding process following the devastating 9/11 attacks, I asked him why he wanted to run for president, more out of curiosity than any other reason.
He said a candidate, in the candidate role, needs to be electable. While I did not get the opportunity to follow up on that specific statement, at a visceral level I think I understand what he meant. Polls are not elections. Rhetoric isn’t fact. Toting a party line isn’t debating the issues.
To be electable and to properly govern, he said a candidate needs to focus on people not politics, be able to work within the confines of a 2 party system and be willing and able to negotiate with both parties to achieve proper governance.
The people before politics statement confirms, at least to me, that he acknowledges how many Americans have come to perceive elected officials: as ideologues focused on the wants and needs of the party as opposed to the wants and needs of the people they represent.
When asked if he thought the other candidates could win the general election he said he wasn’t going to bash his opponents.
I asked what he would do if elected. Mr. Pataki will decrease the size of government. He believes the government is much too large with too many segregated departments and governmental waste.
I asked him how he felt about campaign finance. This, in my opinion, is where he really breaks away from the pack. He told me he would support campaign finance reform, that it is inappropriate for elected officials in Washington to spend 80% of their time in office fundraising for the next campaign instead of doing the job of representing the people. He also thinks it should not be legal for members of Congress and/ or the Senate to become lobbyists following their term in office.
I found that answer honest, well thought out and refreshing.
Although he had been my governor, I knew little about him aside from his popularity and the work he’d done post 9/11. So I asked about his background.
He was raised in Peekskill, NY, a sleepy Hudson River waterfront community in Westchester County bordered to the east by the Blue Mountain Reservation, an hour and a half drive from Manhattan. His father was a fire captain.
Mr. Pataki was Peekskill mayor in the early 80’s, served in the state assembly and then the NY state senate before becoming NY governor in 1995, having beat incumbent Mario Cuomo, which might be best described to New Englanders as an upset akin to someone with little name recognition beating an incumbent Kennedy in a race for Massachusetts governor.
He is fiscally conservative with a strong record of cutting taxes, creating jobs and balancing budgets. When his campaign begins to gain traction I suspect he might have problems with the rigid and divisive Republican party base because he is socially centrist. He supports a woman’s right to choose and same sex marriage and he has spent his time since he left office championing green initiatives meant to address climate change.
He feels the Republican party has taken a far right turn and the changing demographics in the country cannot relate to the party as a whole.
I, for one, have to agree.