Pataki, George, E(lmer) (b Peekskill, Westchester Co, 24 June 1945). Governor.
Pataki grew up on the edge of the New York City metropolitan area, where his father worked as a farmer and postmaster. He graduated from Yale University (1967) and Columbia Law School (1970) and practiced law while entering local Republican politics. Elected mayor of Peekskill in 1981, Pataki won a seat in 1984 in the state assembly, where he served until being elected to the state senate in 1992. Running as a little-known, first-term Republican state senator, Pataki stunned American politics in 1994 by upsetting nationally prominent incumbent Governor Mario M. Cuomo, a perennial Democratic presidential prospect. Long Island and upstate were key to his victory, and he became New York State’s first governor elected with Conservative Party backing. He gratified conservative supporters in 1995 by reinstating the death penalty and enacting a large tax cut, both key campaign promises. Pataki also appealed to moderates by supporting abortion rights and public funding for poor women’s abortions, and backed laws that outlawed discrimination against gays.
As governor Pataki enjoyed the benefits of a booming stock market and expanding economy through 2000 and was able to cut taxes while increasing spending on education and healthcare. His embrace of such liberal policies and programs in a heavily Democratic state helped him win reelection in 1998 and 2002. He undertook major expansions of health programs for the working poor, including the development of Child Health Plus and Family Health Plus. A dedicated environmentalist, he embarked on an expansion of state parklands and wilderness areas, particularly in the Adirondack and Catskill Mountains. Pataki faced a major challenge in leading the state toward recovery after the terrorist attacks of 11 Sept 2001. The resulting economic shock, coupled with a national economic slowdown, contributed to major state budget deficits after years of surpluses. Pataki won 49% of the popular vote in the 2002 gubernatorial election (as compared to 34% for his nearest challenger), with strong union support. His 2003 budget called for substantial spending cuts, and he suffered a political setback when his veto of 119 separate budget items was overridden by a bipartisan coalition of members of the assembly and senate.
Pataki, George E., with Daniel Paisner. Pataki: An Autobiography (New York: Viking Press, 1998)
Peter Eisenstadt, ed., The Encyclopedia of New York State
(Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2005), [p. 1184].
© Syracuse University Press. Reproduced with permission from the publisher.