Thursday, February 03, 2005

Assembly Tries to Cancel Pataki's TV Pitches

The New York Times
February 3, 2005
Assembly Tries to Cancel Pataki's TV Pitches

ALBANY, Feb. 2 - Forget the state budget. Not to mention mass transit, the proposed Jets stadium, Medicaid and that pothole in Poughkeepsie that needs filling.

On Wednesday, the people's business in the State Assembly was dominated by Gov. George E. Pataki's mug, and how often New Yorkers need to see it.

Not so often, Democrats decreed. (Newsflash!)

By 100 to 43, along mostly partisan lines, the Assembly voted to ban statewide elected officials - the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and comptroller - from appearing in taxpayer-financed commercials celebrating all things New York on television, radio and the Internet.

Mr. Pataki used to feel the same way when he was an assemblyman and Gov. Mario M. Cuomo appeared in such ads; at one point he even supported a similar bill. Today, however, Mr. Pataki is the only one of four statewide officials who appears regularly in such ads, and he has a reputation for appearing in tens of millions of dollars worth of them.

On Tuesday night's edition of the MSNBC program "Hardball," for instance, the host, Chris Matthews, asked Mr. Pataki about New York City's economy and told the governor, "I see you on a lot of the TV commercials for Lower Manhattan development."

Neither the governor's office nor several state agencies could put a precise price tag on the commercials over Mr. Pataki's three terms in office. But aides to Mr. Pataki said he appeared this winter in a $4.9 million campaign promoting investment in Lower Manhattan, $1.2 million in cable commercials for the "I Love New York" tourism campaign, and a $1 million promotion for renewable energy supplies.

Mr. Pataki also tried to build support for new children's health programs in a five-year, $26 million ad campaign, which included $9.3 million in state money, that ended about two years ago. Democrats asserted that there had been additional print, radio and television ads over his time in office that would have been banned under the bill.

David Catalfamo, Mr. Pataki's communications director, dismissed the Assembly action as silly. "Post 9/11, he's a natural spokesman to encourage the world that New York is a safe place to come to and invest in," he said.

But Democrats charged that the advertisements were a self-aggrandizing waste of taxpayers' money, intended to cast Mr. Pataki as a spokesman for obviously popular issues, promote his re-election campaigns, and further his presidential aspirations in states like New Hampshire and Pennsylvania, where some of the ads also appear.

The Assembly majority leader, Paul A. Tokasz, the bill's sponsor, expressed contempt on Wednesday for Mr. Pataki's championing state health care programs on the airwaves in one breath, then proposing cuts to Medicaid in his proposed budget.

"The disingenuousness is just too much," Mr. Tokasz said in an interview.

The Democrats' point made, the bill is now expected to go to the Republican-controlled Senate, and die.