Running Scared: Observations of a Former Republican
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"Losing my faith in humanity ... one neocon at a time."

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Not So Happy New Year for Pataki

posted by Jazz at 1/01/2005 04:58:00 PM


And here you thought Rudy Giuliani was having problems with his business partner.

While everyone else is partying (or recovering from same) things might not be quite so rosy in the offices of George Pataki. The New York governor has recently been the subject of a great deal of speculation, particularly as to whether or not he might be considering a run at Hillary Clinton's Senate seat, or even the White House in 2008. Things like this Erika Rosenberg article, however, may come back to squash any national level ambitions he might have.
Gov. George Pataki's administration is trying to keep secret at least 500 pages of records related to a discredited deal to sell development rights along the Erie Canal system for a rock-bottom price.

Top Pataki aides pressured the Thruway Authority not to turn the records over to Democrats investigating the deal, the Thruway Authority chairman testified Wednesday.

They had been fighting the release of these documents in the court system right up until this week. In a follow-up piece today, Rosenberg reports:
Hundreds of pages of internal memos and e-mails made public Friday reveal how Gov. George E. Pataki's administration tried to control the damage done by news stories about a since discredited deal to sell development rights along the Erie Canal for a rock-bottom price.

They show Pataki aides directing the public responses made by the Thruway Authority and Canal Corp. to questions about the deal granting Buffalo developer Richard Hutchens exclusive building rights along the 524 mile canal system for just $30,000. and they show the Republican administration was irate when Democratic state Comptroller Alan Hevesni nixed the deal.
This is just the cover-up phase of a much older story. Allow me to provide a thumbnail summary of the background.

Back in 1999, the New York State Canal Corp. (a supposedly independent, non-partisan office staffed with Governor appointees) began working on a project to develop thousands of acres of waterfront real estate all along the Erie Canal system in Upstate New York. The goal was to generate some revenue and to develop high scale, upper class residences in these desirable areas of state controlled land. Whoever got the contracts to do this would stand to make a lot of money, with some estimates saying that the deal would be worth more than $27 million.

So, how did this non-partisan office seek out the best deal for a developer to take on this task?

The high-profile project was announced in a whisper: A 250-word notice seeking bidders was right below the notices for mops, shop towels and coveralls, on page 62 of a booklet available to vendors for $175 a year.

So, in 1999, the state got just one bid, from a Buffalo developer named Richard Hutchens who had been working with the state on a canal proposal since 1996.

If this shocks you, it really shouldn't. This is New York State politics in its most typical form, but in order to appreciate it you need to know a little bit about how politics works here in the Empire State. Jay Gallagher has been doing investigative reporting into the inner workings of this system for ten years, which gets surprisingly (or perhaps not so surprisingly) little attention in the wider media. Frankly, I'm shocked that the guy hasn't wound up floating face down in a river by now.

When people from other parts of the country think of New York, they tend to think of the Big Apple. But say what you will about Gotham's cultural centers, conventions, Wall Street, etc. the real power in New York doesn't reside in NYC. The real power is found in Albany in and lush palatial estates up and down the Hudson Valley. You see, what New York has in abundance, perhaps more so than most other states, is Old Money. And I'm talking about seriously old money - money so ancient that it's covered in moss and has been fermenting since the 1800's. We have Rockerfellers and Winchesters, Westchesters, Carnegies and more. Many of the names change via marriage, but the Old Money behind them remains the same. And here in New York State, nobody (with the exception of Hillary, who is a recent and possibly unique exception) rises up through the ranks of political power without these people.

They have numerous offices of "political consultants" who span the entire spectrum from radical liberal to arch conservative. They are all funded by the same money, and the really odd thing about them is that they seem to have no serious political interests, at least in terms that most pundits would recognize. They aren't worried about either party's agenda - they are in the business of taking care of the Old Money, first, last and always.

If you are running for office in New York - pretty much any office higher than dog catcher - and you have even a ghost of a chance of being elected, people from one or the other of these organizations will show up and dump bags of money on you for your campaign. You can be a Democrat, a Republican, a Green... hell, you could be a Nazi and if you're polling high enough, they'll have somebody there with a check. And they make no secret of the fact that they are donating to your opponent's campaign as well.

Once you are elected, you can put forth any sort of agenda you like. You can be out there fighting for thousands of acres of land for the endangered blue striped squirrel, or you can be leading the charge to get creationism taught in school. It doesn't matter - they'll have somebody there smiling and cheering you on. But then, every once in a while, some "little" piece of legislation will come up that affects the old money. Or, in cases like this one, it might not even be legislation - just an appointment or the awarding of a certain contract. Then the smiles fade and these same people will come and just mention how they would like to see things go. And they will remind you of how much money they have flushed into your career, and oh, wouldn't it be just tragic if they forgot to write you a check next year but still funded your opponent? That's when you see quiet bipartisan cooperation on an unheard of scale... and that's how business gets done in New York.

Forget about the $8,000 and $12,500 donations that Richard Hutchens made to Pataki's war chest in recent years. That was small peanuts. Hutchens is connected to some serious Old Money in New York, and if this hadn't been exposed (unlike so many other, similar deals which go by without notice every year) there wouldn't have been anyone else in the world who had a shot at that contract but him.

These things go on all the time in New York. But I think that George Pataki is getting ready to learn a hard lesson about how the media (and bloggers!) can dig up skeletons like this out of your closet when you dare to reach for the White House. There's more where this came from, I assure you. Pataki has been embedded in New York politics his entire life.