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New York Post

Pataki Plays Pentagon

April 3, 2001
Copyright © 2001 New York Post Holdings, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Gov. Pataki is not a member of the Bush administration - he's certainly not secretary of defense or state. But you might not know it from the way he's been acting.

The gov is calling for a permanent end to bombing exercises at the Puerto Rican island of Vieques . He plans to visit the island next week to see the situation first hand. But his mind is already made up.

"I know it is time to stop the bombing, but I want to see it in person," Pataki said. "I want to be there . . . so I can go back and go down to meet with President Bush and tell him: I have been there, Mr. President. I have seen the devastation.'"

(President Bush's real defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, will no doubt be oh-so-glad to hear that.)

Wouldn't it be better if Pataki just hung out in Albany focusing on, say, the state budget - which last weekend failed to be put in place by the April 1 deadline, for only the 17th year in a row?

Indeed, you'd have to be blind to not see that Pataki's sudden interest in the subject of naval readiness springs wholly from his desire to cultivate Hispanic votes as he gets set to run for re-election next year.

Which is his right.

But it's a dangerous game.

Yes, New York pols must be respectful of the strong - and growing - Hispanic vote and of what is presumed to be the predominant anti-bombing sentiment in that community.

Many, if not all, of the island's residents would love for the operations to end. Who can blame them?

But these exercises are critical to the proper preparation of American naval personnel. Without this training, U.S. servicemen may find themselves in harm's way bereft of live-fire bombing experience - a potentially deadly disadvantage.

And remember: No one - Pataki included - has yet to identify a suitable substitute for Vieques, which permits combined land, sea and air operations.

Rumsfeld has ordered a suspension of the bombing, and it well may be only a matter of time before the program is halted permanently.

But Pataki's naked pandering on an issue as important as this is downright shameful.

Pataki may or may not be the best candidate for governor next year, should he, as expected, choose to run.

But Pataki's work is in Albany.

Not at the Pentagon.

He'd do well to remember that.

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