In National Politics, Not Exactly an Empire State

Since you were surely distracted by the former hurricane known as Irene, you may not have noticed one of the weekend’s major nonevents. George E. Pataki, once New York’s governor, announced that after indulging in his quadrennial routine of dropping flirtatious hints of a presidential run, he would once again not seek the Republican nomination.

The Day

Clyde Haberman offers his take on the news.

Shocked gasps could not be heard all across the state. Relatively few people had taken a Pataki candidacy seriously. City Room asked readers if they thought he would make a good president. A few said, in effect, Compared with the others, why not? But the consensus leaned more toward this:

Hahahahahahahahaha.

A more eloquent analysis was offered by Steve Kornacki, writing for Salon.com. Mr. Pataki’s problem, he said, went beyond positions on gay rights and abortion rights that are out of step with his party and its increasingly pronounced rightward tilt. The problem, Mr. Kornacki wrote, was Mr. Pataki himself: “He comes across as a thoroughly average, thoroughly boring former governor whose name hasn’t been on a ballot since 2002.”

Mr. Pataki, the analyst noted, wasn’t even the best-known New York Republican when he was governor, from 1995 to 2006. That distinction belonged to New York City’s mayor in the 1990s, Rudolph W. Giuliani, another politician with a quadrennial habit of hinting at a presidential run.

Perhaps the most sobering aspect of the Pataki announcement was the reaffirmation that New York is a backwater in national politics.

There was a time — granted, long ago — when this state was a reliable breeding ground of national leaders, almost up there with Ohio and Virginia. The ranks included Martin Van Buren, Grover Cleveland and a couple of guys named Roosevelt. But no New Yorker has been elected president since F.D.R. became the name of a highway in Manhattan. (Dwight D. Eisenhower was president of Columbia University, and Richard M. Nixon had a New York law practice for a few years, but neither man is commonly thought of as having been a New Yorker.)

The last time a major party even made someone from this state its presidential candidate was in 1948, when the Republican Thomas E. Dewey, then New York’s governor, lost to Harry S. Truman.

Not that we haven’t offered the country serious people, among them Nelson A. Rockefeller, Mario M. Cuomo, Mr. Giuliani and newly minted New Yorkers like Robert F. Kennedy and Hillary Rodham Clinton. Before his governorship imploded, Eliot Spitzer had White House visions of his own.

But the country’s political center of gravity has obviously shifted southward and westward, making the going from these parts tougher than ever. It has always been rough for New York City mayors; not one has risen to higher elected office since the 1860s. Now, statewide officeholders seem snakebitten as well.

We talked this over with David S. Birdsell, dean of the School of Public Affairs at Baruch College.

“Is there something about us?” Professor Birdsell said. Definitely for the Republicans among us, he said. The national party has moved much further to the right than a New York Republican may safely go. “It’s hard to imagine how you can be a successful New York statewide politician and a plausible candidate in a Republican primary,” he said.

New York Democrats are different story. If they’ve failed at the national level, it has been for reasons other than their inability to meet some sort of ideological purity test. Some Democrats are already talking up the present governor, Andrew M. Cuomo, as a national contender in five years.

It is “absurdly early” to ponder 2016, Professor Birdsell acknowledged, but Mr. Cuomo “would not look odd at a Democratic convention,” with positions on budget-cutting, for example, that are “really kind of spot on with national sentiment at this point.”

“He’s our next best bet to enter the lists with some chance of success,” the dean said.

Maybe. But as he said, such speculation is way, way premature — not unlike that 1948 Election Night headline out of Chicago about how the New Yorker beat Truman.


For more local news from The Times, including the devastation Tropical Storm Irene created for Catskill towns and its cost to our city; the aggressive defense of Joshua Komisarjevsky, who goes on trial in September in the killing of a family in 2007; and a slump in performance for city agencies under Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s stewardship, see the N.Y./Region section.

Here’s what City Room is reading in other newspapers and on other blogs this morning:

The 9/11 victims’ compensation fund expanded the benefit zone for people claiming some physical illnesses related to the attacks by 10 blocks, from Reade Street to Canal. [New York Post] (Also see The Wall Street Journal and DNA Info.)

Two small children and a young man were hit by stray bullets when a person shot randomly into a group of 12 people in the Bronx Park South neighborhood. [New York Post] (Also see The New York Times.)

Leiby Kletzky’s family has sued Levi Aron for more than $100 million over the killing of their son. [Daily News] (Also see The Brooklyn Daily Eagle.)

The New York State comptroller’s office cited the phone hacking scandal as its cause for rejecting a $27 million contract with a News Corporation subsidiary for a system to track student performance. [Wall Street Journal] (Also see The New York Times.)

The police are trying to track down a serial rapist who has attempted to attack five women in Park Slope, Brooklyn. [Daily News]

The nearly 800 public school employees to be laid off this year will not know their fate until they show up for the first day of school. [Daily News]

An 82-year-old Holocaust survivor and grandmother from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, drowned in a cottage in Fleischmanns, N.Y., because of flooding from Tropical Storm Irene. [Daily News]

Residents of East Haven, Conn., described the destruction Irene wrought in their beachfront community. [Wall Street Journal]

American Airlines began a thorough search for Jack, a cat lost at Kennedy International Airport during Irene, after Jack’s family set up a Facebook page demanding his return. [Daily News]

Dog owners claim a new financial district dog run is so dirty that it is making their pets sick. [DNA Info

Rachel Figueroa-Levin of Manhattan is the brains behind ElBloombito, a parody Twitter feed written using Mayor Bloomberg’s voice in pidgin Spanish. [Daily News] (Also see DNA Info.)

Tenants of a building in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, charge that they have dealt with a bedbug infestation for the past six years because management has failed to exterminate them. [Daily News]

Some diners charge that city restaurants are using dishonest tactics to add gratuities to their bills. [New York Post]

Concerned parents and nannies are complaining that vagrants regularly use a children’s playground in McCarren Park in Williamsburg as a toilet. [Brooklyn Paper]

A glimpse of a possible anesthetizing future at Coney Island. [Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York]

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