Monday, July 12, 2010
FORMER N.Y. GOV. CAREY CAST AS HERO OF ‘70s CITY FISCAL CRISIS
By TOM WROBLESKI, Political Editor
A new book by a former lawmaker looks to shed light on an under-appreciated hero of the 1975 fiscal crisis: Democratic Gov. Hugh Carey.
Seymour Lachman, a Democrat who once represented part of Staten Island in the state Senate, said Carey often gets lost in the shuffle because he served in between outsized chief executives like Nelson Rockefeller and Mario Cuomo.
But Lachman said Carey was “one of the greatest governors of the 20th century.”
Lachman is the author of “The Man Who Saved New York: Hugh Carey and the Great Fiscal Crisis of 1975.” The book, which Lachman co-wrote with Robert Polner, was published last week. Carey, now 92, sat for 50 hours of interviews for the book over the last three years, said Lachman.
It was in the crucible of the fiscal crisis that Carey truly showed his talent, according to Lachman, who is director of the Hugh L. Carey Institute for Government Reform at Wagner College.
BRINK OF BANKRUPTCY
When Carey was elected in 1974, New York City was already on the brink of bankruptcy. Carey, a seven-term U.S. congressman who beat the odds to win the governor’s race, knew that if the city went broke, the state and possibly other states would follow, said Lachman.
Carey’s ability to get people to work together was the key to his success, said Lachman.
Carey was able to convince powerful labor leaders like UFT president Albert Shanker and DC 37 chief Victor Gotbaum to buy city bonds with pension funds in order to stave off bankruptcy. Big banks also made concessions at Carey’s behest.
“He convinced them it was a lose-lose if the city went bankrupt,” said Lachman, who served nearly five terms in the Senate.
Carey also worked across party lines in the Legislature, encouraging lawmakers to put partisanship aside and trade votes in order to keep the city afloat.
“The most amazing thing is how they cooperated,” said Lachman, who along with Polner wrote the 2006 book “Three Men in a Room,” a study of Albany dysfunction. “It’s unheard of today.”
It actually helped that Carey won the statehouse with little help from party bigwigs, said Lachman.
“He wasn’t beholden to the county leaders,” he said. “They didn’t support him anyway. He did what he thought was best for the state.”
With the city desperately in need of federal assistance, Carey’s Washington connections were also a potent weapon.
Carey had served on the House Ways and Means Committee and had run unsuccessfully for Majority Leader, so he already had inroads with powerful figures like Tip O’Neill and Dan Rostenkowski.
“He worked Washington like nobody did before,” said Lachman.
Despite the famous Daily News headline, Lachman reminded that President Gerald Ford never actually uttered the words “drop dead” to the city. But Carey did have to overcome opposition from Ford and his two top aides, chief of staff Donald Rumsfeld and deputy Dick Cheney, who were against a city bailout.
Those experiences, Lachman said, put Carey above governors like George Pataki, Eliot Spitzer and David Paterson.
“It’s a lesson for today,” he said. “The stature of the top elected official does make a difference.”
Because he preceded the cerebral, silver-tongued Cuomo, Lachman said that Carey was underrated in other ways as well.
“He was more of an intellectual than people gave him credit for,” said Lachman. “He was a superb writer.”
The Carey book is available from publisher SUNY Press, Albany, or online at BarnesandNoble.com and Amazon.com.