George Pataki served as governor of New York for three terms from 1995 through 2006. He is considering a run for the Republican nomination for president.
The Jewish Press: What do you consider to be your signature accomplishments during your tenure as governor of New York?
Pataki: In the big picture we changed the direction of New York. When I first ran, people had lost confidence in the future of the state. They thought it was always going to be too expensive, too big, too many people depending on welfare, and too dangerous.
When I ran we were among the most dangerous states in America, we had the highest tax burden in America, we had one out of every 11 residents on welfare, we had the lowest credit rating out of any state in America, and we were dead last in jobs.
When I left office, we had one million fewer people on welfare, the highest credit rating in generations, $143 billion in tax cuts, we had gone from one of the most dangerous states to the fourth safest state, we had almost 700,000 more private sector jobs, billions in surplus, and the people of New York believing in the future.
So we shrank the size of the government, empowered the private sector to grow, replaced dependency with opportunity, and restored people’s confidence in the future. I believe that’s exactly what has to happen in Washington right now.
Rudy Giuliani came into office in New York City in 1994, you became governor in 1995, and Alfonse D’Amato was still a U.S. senator from New York through 1998. There seemed to be a kind of Republican renaissance in the state and city. Now the city and state are very much blue. What has changed?
I think things always change. I am still optimistic about the future of the Republican Party in New York State.
In large part, where this happened was in the city where the party elected Mayor Giuliani. Other Republicans did well in the city. Now it’s become increasingly harder, but we have five very good leaders who are working together to rebuild the party in the city. I am hopeful we can have success, because the strength of the Republicans is obviously outside the city but you have to feel well enough in the city to be able to compete.
In recent years there’s been another political change. While the Jewish population in general has remained Democratic, many Orthodox Jews have moved to the right, for both religious and pro-Israel reasons. Is that a good change in your eyes?
The fact that a significant percentage of Jewish voters are not just welcoming but embracing the Republican Party is certainly positive for me as a Republican. Also it’s a good thing for the country, because when the two major parties have to compete, as opposed to being able to take for granted a constituency, that constituency’s interests are better served, and the country is better served.
The rumor mill says you soon will declare as a Republican presidential candidate. Are you daunted by the current polling numbers, and the fact that your name recognition is not as high as Scott Walker or Jeb Bush or some of the others?
I don’t underestimate the challenges, but I also don’t underestimate the need to change things. I am very seriously looking at it because I know I have the ability to win an election in a country like America.
I won three terms in New York State as a Republican, and I know I have the ability not just to manage a government but to change a government, to reduces its size, to reduce its cost, to reduce its imposition on people, to create the economic climate we need so that people have confidence in their future and the ability to get a job.