Surprise beginning and end

Providence Journal: New York Gov. George Pataki's announcement that he won't seek a fourth term in 2006 only made page C-20 of the next day's New York Times, along with a less than effusive editorial. That seems a bit truncated for Empire State governor in his 11th year, whose leadership following the epochal atrocity of Sept. 11, 2001, was effective, if not as flamboyant as that of then New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.
The Times may reflect a dismissive attitude about Mr. Pataki that many analysts shared when he first ran for governor, in 1994. A state senator known for little except for being a conservative Republican in a liberal-leaning state, he was given little chance of getting the nomination of his party, let alone unseating the iconic three-term Democratic incumbent, Mario Cuomo. When Mayor Giuliani, himself a Republican, endorsed Mr. Cuomo, Mr. Pataki's candidacy seemed doomed.
But with the help of the reclusive, Massachusetts-based political consultant Arthur Finklestein, Mr. Pataki ran a skilled, well-timed campaign that caught Mr. Cuomo seeming to rest on his greatest laurel: his rousing keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention a decade earlier. Since then, he had let his name be floated in the presidential pool in 1988 and 1992, without quite being able to make himself jump in.
As governor, Mr. Pataki has operated from the center, not the right, and has twice been re-elected by wide margins. This year his poll numbers are down and he may be wise enough to recognize from Mr. Cuomo's experience that fourth terms aren't necessarily a charm.
Since 9/11, Governor Pataki has shown steady leadership in keeping plans for rebuilding lower Manhattan from being derailed by the multiplicity of interested parties involved.
Perhaps Gov. Pataki's most lasting contribution is his commitment to open space, which -- to the surprise of his critics, at least -- became a passion. Merely for the land he has set aside for conservation, he will go down as one of the great environmentalists in New York State's history. There are worse legacies than that.

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