Pataki Decides to Forgo a 4th Term, Confidants Say
By MICHAEL COOPER and PATRICK D. HEALY
Published: July 27, 2005
ALBANY, July 26 - Gov. George E. Pataki told a group of supporters and aides on Tuesday night that he would not seek a fourth term as governor after abruptly summoning them to the governor's mansion, according to two people who attended the meeting.
Mr. Pataki's announcement came as polls showed him trailing Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, the Democrat who hopes to succeed him as governor. But it sets the stage for Mr. Pataki to explore a possible run for president in 2008.
Mr. Pataki's decision is the beginning of the end of his three-term reign, which began when he toppled his predecessor, Mario M. Cuomo. Mr. Pataki, a Republican, took office nearly 11 years ago pledging to remake a state government run by Democrats for an entire generation.
His announcement ends months of speculation about his political future in New York, but leaves the state's Republican Party pressed to find a candidate to replace him. Republicans have mentioned Secretary of State Randy A. Daniels and Tom Golisano, a Rochester billionaire who spent millions of dollars attacking Mr. Pataki when he ran for governor in 2002 as an Independent, among others, as possible candidates.
But the meeting at the governor's mansion, a hastily arranged affair that had supporters from across the state scurrying to attend, was almost more like a family reunion than a political gathering, according to someone who was there who spoke on the condition of anonymity so as not to upstage the governor's planned announcement on Wednesday. Mr. Pataki reminisced about being sworn in under a picture of Theodore Roosevelt, and told supporters that they had accomplished great things over the years together, this person said, and that they should be proud. "As he went around the room, it was continuous applause," the person said.
The governor did not say on Tuesday night whether he would form an exploratory committee to look at a presidential run, one of those at the meeting said, but did mention his recent trip to Iowa, where associates said he was testing the waters for a presidential run.
And Mr. Pataki, apparently mindful that his decision to step down could leave him a lame duck for nearly a year and a half, said that there was more to do.
Among those summoned to the governor's mansion on Tuesday night were Mike Long, the chairman of the Conservative Party and a longtime supporter of the governor's; the State Republican chairman, Stephen J. Minarik III, who was called back from Rochester; and Ryan Moses, the state party's executive director and a former aide to Mr. Pataki.
Even those summoned to the meeting said beforehand that they were not sure what to expect. "When you're in the dark, you're in the dark," Mr. Long said shortly after 8 p.m.
The meeting drew some of Mr. Pataki's closest political advisers. It was the beginning of what associates said would be a string of meetings: a conference call of county Republican chairmen throughout the state was planned for Wednesday at 10:45 a.m., and a rare meeting of Mr. Pataki's full cabinet was planned for 11 a.m.
A dinner for the governor to thank some of his biggest donors was scheduled for Wednesday night at the Water Club in Manhattan.
Mr. Pataki took office in 1995, and immediately cut taxes and spending and signed a bill establishing the death penalty into law. But to win three terms in an overwhelmingly Democratic state, Mr. Pataki, who has always supported abortion rights and gun control, sometimes helped unions win favorable contracts that drove up state spending.
And last year the state's highest court struck down the death penalty, ruling it unconstitutional, before anyone in the state was executed. The Democratic-led State Assembly decided this year not to address the court's concerns, and let the measure die.
Some conservatives have been very dismissive of the possibility of Mr. Pataki running for president, saying he would be too liberal to win in a Republican primary, and noting that another liberal Republican widely mentioned as a possible candidate, Rudolph W. Giuliani, could make it hard for him to compete for votes from moderate Republicans.
Much of the state's Republican establishment has been awaiting Governor Pataki's decision as it struggles to field a slate of viable candidates in 2006 to challenge Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, to run for attorney general and comptroller, and, possibly, to run for governor. The governor's indecision has frozen the field and left several potential candidates unsure of which office they should run for.
Mr. Pataki's moves come as state Republicans begin a series of regional meetings on Thursday to interview and brainstorm with likely candidates for statewide office in 2006, according to state Republican officials.
On Thursday, local party leaders in Buffalo and western New York will meet with four possible challengers to Senator Clinton next year: William A. Brenner , a lawyer; Edward F. Cox, a lawyer and son-in-law of President Richard M. Nixon; Westchester County's departing district attorney, Jeanine F. Pirro; and the ex-mayor of Yonkers, John Spencer.
Ms. Pirro has said she is still deciding whether to run for Senate, state attorney general, or governor if Mr. Pataki chose not to run. Other candidates who plan to attend, the two Republican officials said, are Mr. Daniels, the secretary of state, and Assemblyman Patrick Manning, two possible candidates for governor.
John Faso, a former state assemblyman who narrowly lost his race to be state comptroller in 2002, will also attend.
And one Republican also said that Rick Lazio, the former congressman who lost to Ms. Clinton in 2000, might attend.
Al Baker, in Albany, and Jim Rutenberg, in New York City, contributed reporting for this article.