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

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.

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.

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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.

And just as both Rockefeller and Lindsay were eyeing the national stage back in the 1960s, so too are Giuliani and Pataki. Both have been flying around the country testing their presidential prospects. With his announcement last week, Pataki signaled he's apparently hoping for a vice presidential spot. Giuliani is expected to stay closer to home and run for the Senate seat being vacated by Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan. And if he does, the tensions between him and the governor could play an important political role.

The governor last week signed into law a repeal of the city's commuter tax on suburbanites who work in the city. That put the mayor in the uncomfortable position of threatening to go to court to preserve a tax on suburban voters he'll badly need in the Senate race.

That's if he gets the nomination. To add sting to the political snub at his much-ballyhooed announcement last week, Pataki chose to showcase Congressman Rick Lazio - a little-known but rising Republican star who is also eyeing the race for Senate. If he throws his hat in, pundits predict a bruising Republican primary. The end result could be a low-key competition between Hillary Rodham Clinton and Congressman Lazio instead of the much touted and hoped for race between her and Giuliani.

"Given the choice between a better-known moderate and an underdog conservative, the Republican primary voters of New York State will vote for one of their own every time - a conservative," says Jay Severin, a New York-based Republican strategist. "And Rick Lazio compared to Rudy is William Buckley."

Mr. Severin believes that most of New York's Republican primary voters, whom he describes as "older white Republican men named Chuck," have not forgiven Giuliani for endorsing Cuomo in 1994 - despite all he's tried to do to make up for that since. But other political analysts disagree.

Little-known Lazio

Maurice Carroll, a longtime New York political observer and director of the Quinnipiac College Polling Institute, says Giuliani is still the "800-pound guerrilla" to beat if there's a race for the Republican senate nomination. In a recent Quinnipiac poll, only 9 percent said they'd vote for Congressman Lazio.

"On Lazio, the 'don't know enough to make a decision' is around 79 or 80 percent," says Mr. Carroll. "That doesn't mean he can't get known, and favorably, but at this stage of the game, beyond his neighborhood he's simply not well known."

But that could change if Pataki and D'Amato throw their considerable weight behind him, leaving Giuliani to wage a lonely battle, particularly upstate where the Republican base is the strongest.

"New York City mayors typically have a difficult time running for statewide office because they're constantly having to build bridges upstate," says Mr. Miringoff. "And if you know New York, the bridges over the Hudson go east and west, not north and south - it's very hard to get north from the city."

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