FORMER GOV. HUGH CAREY REMEMBERED FOR
TOUGH DECISIONS, BIPARTISAN APPROACH
By JON CAMPBELL and JOSEPH SPECTOR
Gannett Albany Bureau
ALBANY — Former Gov. Hugh Carey, who is credited with guiding New York City back from the brink of fiscal disaster in the mid-1970s, was remembered Sunday as someone who wasn’t afraid to reach across the aisle to curb government spending and deal with financial crisis, a lesson many said could prove useful to political leaders today.
Carey, a Democrat who served between 1975 and 1982 as the state’s 51st governor, was surrounded by his family as he died peacefully Sunday morning at his summer home off Long Island, according to his family. He was 92.
Several government officials and experts said the former governor’s willingness to work with opposing interests was a major reason the state was able to save New York City as it was dangerously close to bankruptcy in 1975.
“Governor Carey never backed away from a tough fight, but he also knew that governing meant respecting the Legislature and respecting members of the opposite party,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement. “His administration was not marked with partisan fights or ideological gridlock. He used his charisma, wit and intellect to succeed.”
Carey, a Brooklyn native who served seven terms as a Democratic congressman before being elected governor in 1974, set the tone of fiscal austerity early in his administration. In his State of the State address on Jan. 7, 1975, he delivered his famous line to the Legislature: “Now the times of plenty, the days of wine and roses, are over.”
He brought together a diverse group of business and labor leaders to pull New York City out of near financial ruin as the state took over its finances, taking on the crisis in his first year as governor. By keeping the city out of insolvency, he rescued the state from calamity, experts said.
“He was, and remains, one of New York state’s most effective yet least appreciated governors,” wrote Seymour Lachman and Robert Polner in their 2010 biography, “The Man Who Saved New York: Hugh Carey and the Great Fiscal Crisis of 1975.”
Former Sen. George Winner, an Elmira Republican who served in the Assembly during Carey’s tenure, called the former governor a “great, colorful guy.” Winner cited Carey’s work with then-Senate Majority Leader Warren Anderson, a Binghamton Republican, as a leading example of Carey’s bipartisan work.
“His performance in the New York City crisis was absolutely critical to the future of New York,” Winner said. “He did an exemplary job in not only dealing with the crisis but dealing with Warren Anderson, and I think those two showed the best in leadership and bipartisanship that can be shown.”
But he was also regarded as something of a loner, who had difficulty maintaining relationships with subordinates and legislators.
In 1981, an electrical transformer fire contaminated the 18-story Binghamton State Office Building with soot-laden, toxic PCBs and dioxin. Carey sought to allay public fears. Describing the situation as “overblown,” he declared, “I offer here and now to walk into Binghamton, to any part of that building and swallow an entire glass of PCBs.”
The remark provoked a storm of derision and Carey later apologized. The accident is considered the country’s first indoor environmental disaster; the building remained closed for more than 13 years and the cleanup cost more than the original structure.
Assemblyman David Gantt, D-Rochester, recalled campaigning for Carey in 1974, helping him win the Democratic primary against Howard Samuels, a wealthy businessman from nearby Canandaigua, Ontario County. Gantt said Carey’s first year in office was reminiscent of Cuomo’s this year: both had to tackle significant economic woes in the state.
“The situations are similar. Trying times with difficult decisions,” Gantt said.
Cuomo recognized the similarities when he took office this year. He sent copies of Carey’s biography to lawmakers and other special interest groups to illustrate how Carey was able to bring together warring sides to solve the state’s financial troubles.
“He was able to rise above that and bring all kinds of people and organizations and constituencies together for the common good of New York state,” Lachman said Sunday.
Lachman said he believes Carey’s successes in his first term exhausted him and the problems he faced weren’t as great in his second term, leading to what most viewed as a lackluster second four years in office. He did not seek a third term in 1982, leading Mario Cuomo, his lieutenant governor, to run as the Democratic nominee and serve three terms.
“He was exhausted, he was tired and he left office with great dignity and accomplishment,” Lachman said of Carey.
Lachman said Carey’s handling of the New York City fiscal crisis could serve as a model for getting leaders to work together now on the nation’s economic troubles.
Aside from the fiscal crisis, Carey also oversaw the launch of the popular “I Love New York” campaign while in office. As a Congressman in 1965, Carey sponsored the bill that created the National Technical Institute for the Deaf at Rochester Institute of Technology in Henrietta.
“He was interested in minority groups and he became familiar with Gallaudet University. And it was through that initial contact with the deaf community he led the group in the legislative action creating NTID,” said D. Robert Frisina, the organizing director of NTID from 1967 to 1979. Gallaudet, in Washington, D.C., is liberal arts college for deaf and hearing-impaired students.
Richard Rosenbaum, former state Republican Party chairman from 1973 through 1977, remembered how Carey was always affable, even when Rosenbaum was being critical of his policy decisions. He used to kid Rosenbaum about his college boxing days.
“Every time I would see him he would make a pose as a fighter,” Rosenbaum, who lives in Penfield, Monroe County, recalled.
Carey and his first wife, Helen, had 14 children. She died in 1974. His 1981 marriage to Chicago millionaire Evangeline Gouletas ended in divorce.
He finished his career as a senior partner with Harris Beach, a law firm based in Pittsford, Monroe County.
Asked in a 2007 New York Times interview what he would like to be remembered for, Carey replied: “as a man who loved the people of New York as much as he loved his own family.”
Richard Brodsky, a Democrat from Greenburgh, who was elected to the Assembly as Carey was leaving office, said Carey was underestimated when took over the governor’s office, and showed that “character and intelligence, when they’re supplemented by real political skills, could really make a difference.”
Carey’s battles with the Legislature led to bipartisan agreements and “really extraordinary decisions” that help set the state’s trajectory, said Brodsky, who left office last year.
“He really understood the centrality of the legislative process to making good government work, and I think it’s a lost attribute these days,” Brodsky said. “In retrospect, what he brought was an ability to make a democratic government function, and no higher compliment can be offered to anybody.”
FORMER GOV. HUGH CAREY REMEMBERED FOR