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Former NY Gov. Hugh Carey, who led fiscal rescue of New York City in 1970s, dies at 92
NEW YORK (AP) ' Former New York Gov. Hugh Carey was at his best when faced with a crisis and when he took office in 1975, New York City wobbled at the edge of fiscal calamity.
The governor had inherited the worst economic climate since the Great Depression. New York City, the nation's Wall Street-powered economic engine, was nearing bankruptcy. Famously declaring the "days of wine and roses are over," the well-to-do son of an entrepreneur rose to the challenge, forced major changes in the way New York governed and financed itself, and stared down a Republican president to keep New York City from insolvency.
The liberal Democrat who reversed the tax-and-spend excesses of his Republican predecessor to keep the city and state afloat died Sunday at his summer home on Shelter Island. He was 92.
For years after he left office, political friends and foes alike paid annual tribute to the charismatic, at times unpredictable governor. On Sunday, they looked wistfully back at a man they deemed a true statesman, an example of the sort of nonpartisan leader needed today, particularly given the current economic woes and political paralysis in Washington.
"As our nation faces fiscal crisis, we are reminded of the proud example set by Governor Carey that with sober, enlightened leadership, government can help solve even the most difficult problems," former Gov. George Pataki, a Republican, said in a statement. "His lasting legacy, saving the City of New York from bankruptcy, is an important lesson for our elected officials in Washington today and for all Americans."
The Brooklyn-born Carey served two terms as governor from 1975 to 1982 after seven terms as a congressman representing his home borough.
"This government will begin today the painful, difficult, imperative process of learning to live within its means," Carey declared in his inaugural address on Jan. 1, 1975.
His predecessor, Republican Nelson A. Rockefeller, had run up much higher taxes and enormous debt as he built a legacy of state universities and highways while in New York City, Mayor John Lindsay, a Republican turned Democrat, followed a similar spending pattern that led to deep deficits in the 1974-75 recession.
With New York City at the brink of bankruptcy and threatening to take the state down with it, Carey took drastic action, seizing control of the city's finances, engineering more than $1 billion in state loans to bail out the city and mustering the backing needed to reorganize its shaky finances and restore confidence in both the city and state.
Shuttling among Albany, New York City and Washington, he then won federal loan guarantees from the reluctant Republican administration of President Gerald Ford that secured the plan.
Ford's hesitancy made front-page news, immortalized in the New York Daily News headline: "Ford To City: Drop Dead." While Ford did not explicitly mouth those words, they were implied in a speech he made initially denying the city federal assistance.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement that Carey's leadership "set the stage for the city's incredible rebirth in the years and decades that followed."
Bloomberg said that when he first considered running for office, Carey was one of the first people he sought out. He called him a friend and mentor.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who announced Carey's death, called him a "true American success story."
Carey campaigned successfully for appointment, rather than election, of judges to the state's highest court, a move that was seen as insulating the Court of Appeals from politics. He helped bring the Democratic National Convention to Madison Square Garden in 1976 and 1980 and sought to again stamp New York as a singular American destination, launching the iconic and still-imitated "I Love New York" promotional campaign.
His second term bogged down in disputes with the Legislature and seemed lackluster.
"What am I supposed to do, save New York City twice?" Carey once commented. He declined to seek a third term. He became a partner in a Park Avenue law firm then joined W.R. Grace & Co. as a Washington lobbyist.
Hugh Leo Carey was born in Brooklyn in 1919. He left St. John's College in 1939 to enlist in a National Guard horseback cavalry unit at Camp Drum in northern New York. He fought in the infantry with the 104th Division in France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany, and was a decorated lieutenant colonel when he was discharged in 1946.
After military service he went to law school and then joined the family business; his father was a petroleum distributor. In his first run for Congress, in 1960, he wrested a seat from a four-term Republican incumbent.
He served on the Ways and Means and the Education and Labor committees, and in 1969 made an unsuccessful run for the New York City Council presidency.
Carey and his first wife, Helen, had 14 children. Two sons died in a car accident in 1969 and Helen, who had suffered from cancer, died in 1974. Less than three weeks later, he announced his candidacy for governor.
Carey, who also maintained a residence on Manhattan's Upper East Side, was a senior partner at Harris Beach law firm.
Asked in a 2007 New York Times interview what he would like to be remembered for, Carey replied: "as a man who loved the people of New York as much as he loved his own family."
Esch reported from Albany.