Assemblyman Vito Lopez is giving visitors to his Brooklyn
district a short tour. Look behind me, the Democrat says, pointing
to a row of townhouses. "Four years ago, this was just empty lots
with rats and garbage."
Across the street, at another new construction site for a Youth
Center, a big sign explains that the money for all this has come
from Albany - with Gov. George Pataki's name in bold letters. It's
one of the reasons Mr. Lopez and other prominent Latino Democrats
are here to cross party lines and support Mr. Pataki.
The Lopez endorsement illustrates the quiet transformation of one
of the nation's most prominent governors. Mr. Pataki, elected as a
conservative eight years ago, is now seeking moderate Democrat votes
to win his third term.
He is making inroads into the constituency of his main opponent,
Democrat Carl McCall, by making deals with unions, funneling money
into minority communities, and supporting healthcare issues. Last
week, he even won the approval of a homosexual group, which had
never backed a Republican.
It is a remarkable change for a politician whose main issue eight
years ago was bringing back the death penalty.
"It's been quite a transformation for George Pataki," says Larry
Sabato, a political analyst at the University of Virginia. "He's
gone from a conservative republican who defeated Mario Cuomo to the
left of his own party."
The extent of Pataki's political swing is unusual in American
politics. The closest comparison is former President Gerald Ford,
once considered a conservative, now viewed as a liberal Republican.
"Some politicians have made more modest moves, but no one has done
what Pataki's done as far as I know."
There are national political implications for this shift. Pataki
once thought about running for higher office as either president or
vice president, but he may now be far too liberal for his party.
Yet, the strategy is working in the Empire State. A Marist poll
in early October found he has a 16-point lead over McCall, who is
bidding to become New York's first African-American governor. Last
week, Mr. McCall had to negotiate with the Democratic National
Committee (DNC) chairman, Terry McAuliffe, to get new money for ads.
In part to avoid taking the blame for a McCall loss, the DNC
"Don't count McCall out," says G. Oliver Koppel, a former
Democratic state attorney general. …