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Associated Press Newswires

Rivera’s Health Care Workers' Union Endorses Pataki


March 19, 2002
Copyright © 2002
Associated Press Newswires. All Rights Reserved.

NEW YORK (AP) - Republican Gov. George Pataki, in a blow for his Democratic rivals, picked up the endorsement Tuesday of a major health care workers' union that normally backs Democrats.

The endorsement of Local 1199 of the Service Employees International Union came at a news conference at the Children's Hospital at Montefiore in the Bronx.

"The union has not had such a relationship with any previous governor ... in terms of getting high-quality health care," said Dennis Rivera, the union's president.

Rivera said no other governor has "been so responsive to the needs of the workers, the patients and the entire health care industry."

The union represents more than 210,000 health care employees, mostly in the New York City area.

"I'm proud to have the support of the noble men and women who dedicate their lives to taking care of others," said Pataki, who has not yet formally announced his bid for a third term.

The two major Democrats seeking to unseat Pataki, former federal Housing Secretary Andrew Cuomo and state Comptroller H. Carl McCall, said the endorsement is simple political payback.

In January, the state Legislature approved a multi-billion dollar package aimed at raising salaries for health care workers. The legislation was negotiated by Pataki and Rivera.

"He bought the endorsement of a union. It's a terrible thing to do," McCall said Tuesday during a campaign stop in Syracuse. McCall said, "I am hoping that the workers in that union, the members, will see through and make a distinction between people like the governor who try to buy them and other people who have been their true friends through the years."

Asked brushed aside questions about buying the endorsement, saying the union members have looked at his record, "that comprehensive record of the past seven years and said it warranted their support."

Union members attending the endorsement event said they appreciated Pataki's support and were returning the favor.

"Friends help one another," said Diana Raso, a patient care technician at Montefiore. "The man is very powerful. I feel he should be supported because he supported us."

"Most of us are Democrats, but he has taken care of Democrats," added Judith Harris, a service associate at the Bronx hospital. "He helped us when we needed it."

A top Pataki political adviser was crowing.

"The Democrats have a three-legged stool missing a leg," said Kieran Mahoney. "They're in a lot of trouble."

The union endorsement carries several advantages for Pataki. The union represents mainly black and Hispanic workers and the Puerto Rican -born Rivera is considered one of the state's most powerful Hispanic leaders. McCall, the only black candidate ever elected to statewide office in New York, has counted heavily on minority voter support for his candidacy.

The endorsement also puts Local 1199's much-coveted phone bank operation and hefty political treasury in Pataki's corner.

Recent independent polls have shown Cuomo and McCall running about even for the Democratic nomination, but with Pataki holding leads in the 2-1 range over either Democrat.

Pataki's job approval rating has soared in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that brought down the World Trade Center towers.

Pataki has been courting Rivera and Local 1199 for months. At Rivera's urging, Pataki had earlier lobbied President Bush to bring an end to the U.S. Navy's practice bombing on the island of Vieques off Puerto Rico .

The union's New York City base could help Pataki in the heavily Democratic city where voters have, in recent years, shown a willingness to back Republicans. After two terms as mayor, Republican Rudolph Giuliani was replaced this year by another Republican, Michael Bloomberg.

Bloomberg's victory was credited in large to his capturing of about 50 percent of the city's Hispanic vote.

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