New York, NY —The powerful health care workers union - local 1199 of the
service employees international union -- announced its support of Republican Governor George Pataki yesterday. The endorsement comes as a major boost for the Republican incumbent, who will run against one of two high-profile Democrats. WNYC's Andrea Bernstein reports.
Rivera: Governor Pataki, Shame on you!
At one time Dennis Rivera and George Pataki seemed like the bitterest of enemies. In the face of proposed budget cuts, Rivera would rally his considerable troops.
Rivera: This is what we mean by arrogance, these powerful men, with every advantage in the world running around the country for their future political lives are ready to destroy our health care system and the health and well being of our families!
In 1995, just after he took office, Pataki proposed hundreds of millions of dollars in health care cuts. Rivera responded by
spending $1 million on anti-Pataki tv ads. Those ads helped drive Pataki's favorable ratings well below 50%, where they remained for years.
Pataki: I understood completely. It was a very contentious
battle. That's part of the Democratic process that's part of the political process.
Pataki did understand he would have to make peace with Rivera. So he began working with him to put together New York's health insurance program for children. By the fall of 1998, when Pataki was running for re-election, Rivera was praising Pataki.
Rivera: I'd like to say that when Governor Pataki was elected Governor and we had a rocky beginning and we all know about that I'd like to say as we reminisce about the work we have done, there's a whole body of work we have done together.
The work continued. By 1999, the two pushed through a deal to raise cigarette taxes to pay for health insurance for more children. They lobbied the Clinton White House together for more Medicaid funds. At the time, Rivera had activated his powerful phone bank and volunteer operations for Hillary Clinton's Senate bid.
But Rivera, who is Puerto Rican, could not persuade President Clinton to halt Naval bombing on Vieques. In early 2001, at Rivera's behest, Pataki called President Bush, and got him to agree to a temporary moratorium on the bombing. Pataki was rewarded with a "Thank you Governor Pataki" rally at 1199 headquarters. "No more bombs in Vieques!" the Republican Governor said in Spanish to the cheering crowd.
Pataki: Now it's our turn to do the right thing for our
children; the right thing for our parents, the right thing for our health care workers, we are going to pass this bill…
By January of this year, when Governor Pataki pushed through legislation giving health care workers their largest raise in a decade, many thought 1199's endorsement was a lock. And soon afterwards, Rivera resigned from his post on the Democratic National Committee. But two high profile Democrats, Andrew Cuomo and Carl McCall,
are seeking to challenge Pataki. And McCall, if elected, would be the state's first black governor. That holds powerful emotional sway for 1199 members, most of whom are black or latino. But it did not hold enough sway.
Rivera: And yesterday, in a unanimous vote, we have taken the decision to endorse Governor Pataki for re-election in this year
1199 has an extraordinarily sophisticated phone bank system. It's ability to get its 215,000 members to volunteer on campaigns is legendary. And Pataki knows it.
Pataki: You are the hands that cradle a newborn infant in the first hours of life. Yours are the hands that provide
compassionate care to our senior citizens who need help when they are sick and now you are the hands we are putting together to make sure we continue to lead this state to make sure we have the best health care system
Since 1994, New York state has become increasingly hospitable to Democrats. In 1998, Charles Schumer beat Al D'Amato by 9 points. In 2000 Hillary Clinton beat Rick Lazio by twelve points. Republican George Pataki, who narrowly won his two past elections, now needs to make Democrats as comfortable as he can with his candidacy. The endorsement of a staunchly Democratic union puts him a long way towards his goal. For WNYC, I'm Andrea Bernstein.