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Pataki's Bush-league endorsement.

On Monday, May 24th, New York's Governor George Pataki endorsed Texas Governor George W. Bush for President. I think I've heard this song before. Pataki endorsed Bob Dole for the 1996 Republican nomination and then vowed that he would exclude all other candidates from the New York primary ballot. It didn't work. And we helped make sure it didn't.

In the autumn of 1995, the New York Republican Party establishment made it clear that it was supporting Bob Dole for President and that there would be no 1996 Republican Presidential Primary in New York. It was not mere bluster. New York State's arcane ballot qualification laws are the most stringent in the nation. For years, many seemingly solid campaigns have foundered on its shoals and sunk long before election day.

Because of this, by November 1995, the combination of arcane election law and the chest-thumping of party leaders, including Pataki, Senator Alphonse D'Amato and Republican State Chairman William Powers, had scared away all challenges to Dole except Steve Forbes with his millions and Pat Buchanan with his volunteers.

The Buchanan campaign recognized that whatever its volunteers' enthusiasm, it needed competent, aggressive legal representation in New York if it were to have any chance of qualifying a significant number of delegates for the primary. Campaign manager Bay Buchanan interviewed several lawyers and chose me.

In 1980, I had successfully represented the Ted Kennedy campaign in disqualifying the presidential candidacy of then California Governor Jerry Brown in New York. In 1992, I was a consultant in the filing of Brown's New York nominating petitions. That time he made the ballot.

The New York Republican Presidential Primary is even more onerous than the Democratic. Instead of a single statewide preferential primary, there are separate pledged delegate slate primaries in each of New York's congressional districts. The task for the Buchanan campaign was to gather - and then defend from the party machine's challenges - designating petitions in each of those districts.

My first tasks included the training of petition coordinators throughout the state in the complexities of the election law. Then came the drafting of designating petitions for 183 candidates listed on over 65 different petition forms. See "Election Lawyers Dot I's and Cross T's," New York Law Journal, Tuesday, November 28, 1995.

In January, I organized litigation throughout New York State when the State Republican Party - true to its boast - challenged Buchanan's petitions in all but three of the twenty-four congressional districts in which he had filed. Each district was a separate proceeding, many of which were followed by the media.

Adverse rulings were appealed in three of the State's four Appellate Divisions. When a favorable ruling opened the door for relief in federal court, appropriate federal proceedings were filed within a day and a half.

In the end, Buchanan got "all that [he] had been asking."

And now for the irony

Pataki and his advisors never anticipated the backlash he received from Republican voters for his high-handed attempts to purge the ballot. His poll numbers plummeted and he was in dire straights.

He recouped his fortunes by a bold move. His polling also demonstrated that New Yorkers were strongly supportive of environmental initiatives. Furthermore,  the numbers revealed that "clean water" gave a bigger bounce than "clean air."

Thus was born the 1996 Clean Water / Clean Air Environmental Bond Act. Because it was subject to a public referendum, the environmental movement formed a vigorous coalition to support it. The Bond Act passed and by the end of year Pataki's approval rating had sky-rocketed.

This year, Pataki seems to have learned his lesson. Soon after the Bush endorsement, he announced that the Republican Party would be adopting more liberal rules for its Presidential Primary in 2000. That doesn't mean a cake-walk for Republican opponents of Bush.  New York Republicans will still have some of the toughest qualifying rules in the country.

Final irony. Coordinating the state Bond Act campaign by the Sierra Club  was Pat Buchanan's lawyer, yours truly. Not only did I vindicate ballot access and earn a fee from Pat, the public got needed funds for cleaning up the environment.

1996 was a very good year.

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