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Class Warfare

Painfully aware the Republican Party has no use for two moderate New Yorkers, Rudy and George have turned their private battle of wills into a schoolyard brawl.

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When George Pataki was campaigning for re-election last fall, Rudy Giuliani's people offered up the mayor to hit the stump with the governor in the nearby suburbs. Pretty good fit, it would seem: the man who cut their taxes, delivered to enthusiastic crowds by the man who tidied up the handful of square blocks they regularly visit.

But Pataki's camp, one insider tells me, demurred, suspecting that what Giuliani really wanted out of this little road show was to elevate not the governor but himself -- you know, let some of those swing voters who help elect senators lay eyes on him. One can't help thinking they were right.

Two-kings-one-hill is an old story in politics, but Pataki and Giuliani are acting out the parts with a truly special vim and vinegar. What started with the usual off-the-record brickbats and items planted with political columnists took a nasty turn when the governor realized he could use the city's public schools as a political weapon. Nearly two years before either one has to run for anything again, it's already getting nuclear.

To say nothing of pointless. Look around us: The economy is strong, crime statistics are where they were when kids were going to the Peppermint Lounge, New York is doing well, and you might think that the first two Republicans to give their party control of both the mayoralty and the governorship in 30 years would find it within themselves to survey the sunny landscape, link arms, and say, "See? We Republicans did this."

But there's an even older story in politics, one we might call ecosystemic: That is, two politicians who are proximal both ideologically and geographically will generally despise each other. This has almost always been true in the recent history of New York. Nelson Rockefeller and John Lindsay were both moderate -- in Lindsay's case, more plainly liberal -- Republicans, one governor, the other mayor. Things commenced well enough, as Rocky backed Lindsay's 1965 mayoral bid. It was down the slide from there, though -- over the 1966 civilian-review-board proposal, which Lindsay pushed (and which moved him toward relying on a black, read non-Republican, constituency); over the garbage strike in the spring of 1968, when Rockefeller wanted to run for president and Lindsay thought he stood a passing chance of being Nixon's veep; over the elections of 1969 and 1970, when each, as incumbent, supported the other's opponent. Then Abe Beame and Hugh Carey, both Brooklyn regulars, ended up at such loggerheads that at a mid-1970s Kings County Democratic dinner, Carey was booed and Beame was cheered. Mario Cuomo and Ed Koch ran against each other twice, but after both were settled into office they managed, to a decent extent, to break the chain. But that was because they appealed to somewhat different constituencies -- and even then Cuomo was not above calling Koch an "old jalopy" in 1989, when the latter was running unsuccessfully for his fourth term (although, by the quizzical logic of New York politics, that remark was taken as a tacit endorsement, since Cuomo was actually praising the quaint reliability of old jalopies).

And of course the principle has also created its opposite -- pols who aren't alike generally find it easier to get along (except for Rudy, who doesn't get along with anyone). Pat Moynihan and Al D'Amato got on nicely, but can anyone doubt that Moynihan's decision to retire was based in some wee part on Chuck Schumer's defeat of the Fonz? Remember, he announced it three days after Schumer won. Moynihan sensed -- correctly -- that Schumer would inevitably try to upstage him. Neither New York nor liberalism being what it once was, there's room in Washington for only one Important New York Democrat, and Moynihan, in his sunset years, is well past wanting to fight for the title.

Which brings us back to Rudy and George. On the national canvas, there's room for only one New York Republican. And so Giuliani, who seems boxed into running for a seat -- Moynihan's -- he doesn't really want, will find, as he marches toward glory, the teeth marks of Pataki minions in his heels every time he lifts a foot. "Rudy had better worry about the primary first," a Pataki strategist told me a few weeks ago.

The Pataki camp has floated a handful of possible Giuliani opponents, but none has the juice to beat the mayor in a primary. The bottom line is that right now, Pataki is trying to block King Rudy with pawns. The day after Giuliani wins a GOP Senate primary, Pataki will find himself in a hole that will take months to dig out of, unless Hillary bails him out -- Pataki is the only person in the country who wants Hillary to move out of the White House more than Monica does.

On the other hand, a governor has many weapons at his disposal. Mostly, the city-state wars have been good sport for insiders, but last month, Pataki suddenly entangled about 1.1 million people -- New York City schoolchildren -- in the intrigues.

Schools Chancellor Rudy Crew started hearing rumors the afternoon of Friday, January 22, that the governor was empaneling a special investigatory commission to look into corruption at the Board of Education and the School Construction Authority. Crew called Albany around 5:30 and was told the governor was out of town. He finally spoke to gubernatorial aide Brad Race on Saturday evening.


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