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The city-state tensions that never sleep

Long-term feud between New York Governor Pataki and and N.Y.C. Mayor

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / June 3, 1999


On a bunting-bedecked stage in downtown Manhattan recently, Gov. George Pataki brought together Republican powerhouses from all around New York to announce his support for Texas Gov. George W. Bush for president.

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Mayor Rudolph Giuliani - arguably the state's second most powerful Republican and a contender for the US Senate - was noticeably absent from the political extravaganza.

It was the latest political snub in a long-simmering feud between the state's governor and the city's mayor.

It began in 1994, when Mr. Giuliani endorsed then-Gov. Mario Cuomo - a Democrat - over Mr. Pataki, at the time a little-known Republican state senator who was running with the blessings of then-Sen. Alfonse D'Amato. The pugnacious Giuliani, who had an antagonistic relationship with Senator D'Amato, charged that ethics "would be trashed" in a Pataki administration that would be "of D'Amato, for D'Amato, and by D'Amato."

It stung. Since then there have been temporary political truces, standoffs, and blowups between the two. And their most recent tiff could dramatically change the dynamic in the upcoming race for Senate by giving Giuliani a primary challenge. But historians and political experts note the relationship between New York's governor and the city's mayor has always been rocky, strained, and very competitive - no matter who's in office.

"There's one state, one pie, so in distributing state resources there will always be question as to what size should the slice be - the larger the slice to New York [City], the smaller slice to the suburbs and upstate," says Mr. Cuomo.

One of Cuomo's first forays into public life was as a member of the so-called "vanden Heuvel Commission," which Republican Mayor John Lindsay set up to protect the city against attacks from Gov. Nelson Rockefeller - also a Republican - who had set up a commission to investigate the city. Both insisted their commissions had nothing to do with their personal feud, but few people at the time believed that.

The city-suburb split

The same factors that created that tension are still at work today. The governor represents mostly upstate and the suburbs, with about 60 percent of the state's 18 million people, whereas the mayor fights for the city - where the rest of the population has very different needs and expectations.

"Some of the tension is structural in that the governor is trying to balance the needs of many cities and many jurisdictions in the state, while the mayor has some of the most difficult policy problems in the world to solve," says Columbia University's Steven Cohen. "John Lindsay called it the second toughest job in the country after the president's - he wasn't saying the governor's job was tougher."

Ladle on top of those institutional conflicts political aspirations for national office and the tension only grows. "New York City mayors can also command a lot more of the New York City media attention than the governor in Albany can, and that's always been a sore spot for governors," says Lee Miringoff of the Marist Institute of Public Opinion in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.