POLITICAL OBITUARIES: HUGH CAREY
Hugh Carey, who died on Sunday aged 92, was a Democratic governor of New York whose success in pulling the city and state back from the brink of financial disaster is now being cited as an example for Western nations struggling to deal with their own deficits.
Carey served two terms as governor of New York, from 1975 to 1982. When he arrived, the city’s finances were in meltdown. Years of profligate spending by his Republican predecessor Nelson Rockefeller had been exacerbated by declining tax revenues during the oil price recession of the mid-1970s. Two weeks after Carey took office the state’s Urban Development Corporation defaulted on its bonds.
Declaring that “the days of wine and roses are over,” Carey called for shared sacrifice and brought together union leaders, politicians and economists to agree a rescue plan. He created the Municipal Assistance Corporation to borrow money and an Emergency Financial Control Board with the power to reject city budgets and labour contracts, giving him vast new authority at the expense of New York’s elected mayor.
He engineered more than $1 billion in state loans to the city and $200 million in city taxes; eliminated more than 100,000 public sector jobs; and imposed wage freezes on public sector workers. In addition he cut spending by 13 per cent after inflation and persuaded banks to refinance some city debts and accept a moratorium on others.
To begin with, prospects did not seem good. A New York Daily News headline encapsulated the mood after President Gerald Ford said he would veto any federal bail-out of the city: “Ford to New York: Drop Dead”. In fact, despite his initial reluctance, Ford was persuaded in 1976 to agree to $2.3 billion in federal loan guarantees to the city and the danger was adjudged to have passed.
Last year, during his gubernatorial campaign for a New York once more in the throes of fiscal crisis, Andrew Cuomo gave copies of The Man Who Saved New York, Seymour Lachman’s account of Carey’s leadership, to union leaders. Some feel the book should now be required reading for politicians not just there, but also in Washington and the capitals of Europe.
Hugh Leo Carey was born in Brooklyn, New York City, on April 11 1919, the fourth of five sons of second generation Roman Catholic immigrants from Ireland. His father had founded a successful fuel oil delivery business and the family was comfortably off.
Carey was educated at St Augustine’s High School in Brooklyn and at St John’s College, where he completed a degree in Law after the war, during which he served with the US Army in Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Croix de Guerre.
In 1947 he married Helen Twohy, the widow of a Naval pilot killed in the war, and adopted her daughter. They had 13 more children together. After finishing his degree he joined the family business.
In 1960 he successfully ran for Congress for New York’s 15th district. Eight years later he ran for mayor of New York as an independent, angering Democratic Party leaders, but abandoned the race after two of his sons were killed in a car crash.
In December 1973, however, Nelson Rockefeller resigned as governor and his deputy Malcolm Wilson took over to serve the year remaining on his term. Ignoring Democratic party managers who supported a rival candidate, and despite his wife’s death from cancer in early 1974, Carey decided to enter the race. He went on to win the Democratic nomination and defeated the Republican incumbent in one of the most resounding victories in the state’s history.
As time went on, however, Carey’s fiscal achievements were overshadowed by gaffes and difficulties in his relationships with colleagues.
In 1981, when an electrical fire contaminated an office building with dangerous chemicals, Carey offered to drink a glass of the toxins, provoking a storm of derision.
The same year, after a public three-month romance, he married Evangeline Gouletas, a Chicago businesswoman. Ms Gouletas claimed that she had been married twice before and that her first husband had died, but reporters soon discovered that she had three former husbands, all of them alive. Despite this revelation, and to the dismay of his staff, Carey began dyeing his hair and including his wife in policy discussions.
In 1982 he decided to retire from politics, becoming a partner in a Manhattan law firm, then a Washington lobbyist. His second marriage ended in 1989.
Hugh Carey is survived by 11 children.
POLITICAL OBITUARIES: HUGH CAREY