The Chief
April 26, 2002

Cop, Fire Unions Rip Cuomo

For Blasting Pataki WTC Role

The Chief-Leader/Eric Weiss
  A CHILLY RESPONSE TO A.C.: Patrolmen's Benevolent Association President Patrick J. Lynch leads a delegation of police and fire union officials in ripping gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo over his charge the Governor Pataki had been Rudy Giuliani's 'coat-holder' rather than a leader following the World Trade Center attacks.

By Richard Steier

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew M. Cuomo's charge April 17 that Governor Pataki was Rudy Giuliani "coat-holder" rather than a leader in the aftermath of the World Trade Center attacks drew a stinging rebuke from all seven city police and fire unions the following day.

"That is absolutely scurrilous and outrageous," Patrolmen's Benevolent Association President Patrick J. Lynch said, contending that Mr. Pataki rose to the occasion not only by marshaling that state's resources but by providing on-the-scene moral support to the families of missing cops during the early days of the searches in the Trade Center rubble.

Capitalizing on Deaths

He excoriated Mr. Cuomo, the former U.S. Secretary of Housing whose father served three terms as Governor before being unseated by Mr. Pataki eight years ago, as "the first politician to try to capitalize on the World Trade Center attacks and the death of hero police officers, firefighters, and people who were just trying to go to work".

Uniformed Firefighters' Association Vice President Michael Carter was equally harsh.  "My mother often said, 'Put your brain in gear before you speak.'  Clearly [Mr. Cuomo] has not heard that advice". 

Mr. Cuomo made his remarks in a conversation with newspaper reporters on the second day of a four-day bus tour throughout the state meant to publicize his candidacy.  Although he is running against State Comptroller Carl McCall for the Democratic nomination, his remarks during the tour focused almost entirely on Mr. Pataki's stewardship.

Mayor's Silent Partner

He looked to score points at the Governors expense by playing on the image that emerged in the first couple of weeks after the Trade Center attacks at press conferences: then-Mayor Giuliani providing detailed daily briefings on the number of casualties, the search efforts, and what was being done by the state and Federal Government to assist the city, while Mr. Pataki stood at this side but spoke only briefly, if at all. 

"He stood behind the leader," Mr. Cuomo contended.  "He held the leader's coat.  He was a great assistant to the leader.  But he was not the leader." 

Mr. Pataki's fellow Republicans, including Mr. Giuliani, quickly offered impassioned testimonials to the Governor's leadership while attacking Mr. Cuomo.  And several police and fire union leaders, including one who supported Mario Cuomo in his run against Mr. Pataki eight years ago, said that while they had not yet decided to endorse the incumbent for re-election, they were ruling out the possibility of backing Mr. Cuomo in light of his remarks.

Lieutenants' Benevolent Association President Tony Garvey, who gave his union's endorsement to Governor Cuomo in 1994, told reporters at the PBA's lower Manhattan headquarters, "I can say with absolute certainty that the Police Lieutenants' Benevolent Association will not support the candidacy of Andrew Cuomo."

Showed Compassion

Uniformed Fire Officers' Association head Peter L. Gorman recalled Mr. Pataki arriving at Ground Zero house after the Twin Towers had collapsed and asking him what he could do to help his members and the families of fire officers who were missing.  He then spoke reassuringly to those families.

"He showed leadership and compassion," said Mr. Gorman.  "If he's guilty of anything, he's guilty of not grabbing a camera."

"He came without fanfare.supporting police officers," added John F. Driscoll, president of the Captains' Endowment Association.  "He brought all the state resources to bear.  He was there when we needed him."

Mr. Lynch said the press conference, which was limited to leaders of the police and fire unions because they were the ones most involved at Ground Zero and therefore best aware of Mr. Pataki's efforts, was called without urging from the Governor or his re-election campaign.

COBA Joins the Chorus

One other uniformed union leader who was not present, Correction Officers' Benevolent Association President Norman Seabrook, issued a statement later that afternoon blasting Mr. Cuomo for criticizing "the Sept. 11 performance of the best Governor New York State has ever had."

COBA and the Uniformed Sanitationmen's Association are the only municipal employee unions that have endorsed Mr. Pataki so far, although it is likely that many other uniformed unions will do so later in the campaign.

As the criticism poured in Mr. Cuomo said too much attention was being given to his "coat-holder" remark at the expense of his broader comments on the lack of leadership Mr. Pataki has continued to display in matters like rebuilding the Trade Center area.

His tactics puzzled many political observers.

Norman Adler, a former political action director of District Council 37 who is now a consultant with both Democratic and Republican clients, wondered why Mr. Cuomo, if there was any calculation to his attack on Mr. Pataki, made it during a bus ride, rather than at a campaign stop where the presence of TV cameras would have given him maximum exposure. 

"It's almost like it came from the gut instead of the brain," Mr. Adler said of the criticism of Mr. Pataki.  Because the Trade Center response still provokes such strong reactions from New Yorkers, he continued, if he were Mr. Cuomo, "That is one battle I would have avoided fighting."