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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Why Pataki bothers to test the waters

Former Gov. George Pataki -- seen above arriving

Former Gov. George Pataki -- seen above arriving in Concord, N.H., on Jan. 12, 2015 -- has flirted with a White House bid twice before. Credit: AP / Jim Cole

Reaction to the latest George Pataki presidential talk sounds something like the skeptical buzz a long-retired athlete might generate by attempting an unlikely championship comeback.

One may wonder why the three-term Republican ex-governor bothers putting his name forward nearly a decade after he left government. Longtime friends and acquaintances suggest several possibilities.

Many Albany hands say Pataki, who turns 70 in June, may be drumming up clients for his law practice. Others suggest he truly likes to get out and around, sincerely feels he can add to the public dialogue and likes to hold a "hey-you-never-know" lottery ticket.

Whatever drives him, you'll now hear Pataki frequently offer reaction to news events. He says the federal corruption indictment of Democratic Assemb. Sheldon Silver, the former speaker, shows "an unchecked expansion of government power." He charges Democratic President Barack Obama with having acted illegally in releasing captured Taliban prisoners for an alleged deserter, Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. Previously, Pataki faulted Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder for the climate he said led to the slaying of two NYPD officers. And so on.

Pataki has visited the early primary state of New Hampshire, where he took humorous verbal jabs at another presidential hopeful, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and trekked again around Iowa as he did in 2011 before pulling the plug on another prospective presidential bid.

Pataki has a super PAC called We the People -- Not Washington. Its fundraising committee includes a core of well-heeled New York backers, some of whom have themselves been Republican candidates for state office.

Other Northeastern Republicans, probably better-known than Pataki, have had a way of coming up short in presidential races.

At one time, ex-New York City mayor and ex-Pataki rival Rudy Giuliani -- way better known than the governor -- looked like a strong contender. By the end of the 2008 GOP primary contests, Giuliani famously had spent $50 million and won only one convention delegate.

One pleasant Pataki quality, however, is that he never displayed the personal bile of a Christie or a Giuliani.

For now, Pataki's We the People website says matter-of-factly that he "believes our next President must reduce the size, scope and cost of government." Should he gain traction, of course, Pataki will need to explain sharp rises in spending, borrowing and overall health care costs during his governorship.

The PAC site acknowledges his underdog status by stating: "If people can only hear the ideas of 'favored' candidates, Republicans will lose to Hillary Clinton. America should have leaders with records of accomplishment, who are focused on the issues that matter and who have won tough elections despite challenging demographics."

Nobody would remember better than Pataki how, as a state senator, he came out of nowhere in 1994 to unseat his three-term predecessor as governor, the late Democrat Mario Cuomo.

Perhaps Pataki, who was unavailable for comment Thursday, believes lightning can strike twice in a lifetime.

At the moment, however, his shingle is hung at Chadbourne & Parke LLP in Manhattan. There, the Martindale-Hubbell law directory lists as his practice areas: "environmental; corporate; climate change; next-generation vehicles."


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