Sunday 22 April 2018

Hugh Carey

Former governor who is credited with miraculously pulling New York back from the brink of financial disaster

Hugh Carey, who has died aged 92, was a Democratic governor of New York, whose success in pulling the city and state back from the brink of financial disaster is now being cited as an example for western nations struggling to deal with their own deficits.

Carey served two terms as governor of New York, from 1975 to 1982. When he arrived, the city's finances were in meltdown. Years of profligate spending by his Republican predecessor, Nelson Rockefeller, had been exacerbated by declining tax revenues during the oil-price recession of the mid-1970s. Two weeks after Carey took office, the state's Urban Development Corporation defaulted on its bonds.

Carey arrived back in New York, after meeting with then president, Jimmy Carter, at Camp David in 1979, declaring that "the days of wine and roses are over". Carey called for shared sacrifice and brought together union leaders, politicians and economists to agree a rescue plan.

He created the Municipal Assistance Corporation to borrow money and an emergency financial control board, with the power to reject city budgets and labour contracts, giving him vast new authority at the expense of New York's elected mayor.

He engineered more than $1bn (€705m) in state loans to the city and $200m (€141m) in city taxes; eliminated more than 100,000 public sector jobs and imposed wage freezes on public sector workers. In addition, he cut spending by 13 per cent after inflation and persuaded banks to refinance some city debts and accept a moratorium on others.

To begin with, prospects did not seem good. A New York Daily News headline encapsulated the mood after President Gerald Ford said he would veto any federal bail-out of the city: 'Ford to New York: Drop Dead.' In fact, despite his initial reluctance, Ford was persuaded in 1976 to agree to $2.3bn (€1.6bn) in federal loan guarantees to the city and the danger was adjudged to have passed.

Last year, during his gubernatorial campaign for a New York once more in the throes of fiscal crisis, Andrew Cuomo gave copies of The Man Who Saved New York, Seymour Lachman's account of Carey's leadership, to union leaders. Some feel the book should now be required reading for politicians not just there, but also in Washington and the capitals of Europe.

Hugh Leo Carey was born in Brooklyn, New York City, on April 11, 1919, the fourth of five sons of second generation Roman Catholic immigrants from Ireland. His father founded a fuel oil delivery business and the family was comfortable financially.

Carey was educated at St Augustine's High School in Brooklyn and at St John's College, where he completed a degree in law after the Second World War, during which he served with the US army in Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Croix de Guerre.

In 1960, he successfully ran for congress in New York's 15th district. Some eight years later, he ran for mayor of New York as an independent, angering Democratic leaders, but abandoned the race after two of his sons were killed in a car crash.

In December, 1973, however, Nelson Rockefeller resigned as governor and his deputy, Malcolm Wilson, took over to serve the year remaining on his term. Ignoring Democratic managers who supported a rival candidate, and despite his wife's death from cancer in early 1974, Carey decided to enter the race. He went on to win the Democratic nomination and defeated the Republican incumbent in one of the most resounding victories in the state's history.

As time went on, however, Carey's fiscal achievements were overshadowed by gaffes and difficulties in his relationships with colleagues.

In 1981, when an electrical fire contaminated an office building with dangerous chemicals, Carey offered to drink a glass of the toxins, provoking a storm of derision.

In 1982 he decided to retire from politics, becoming a partner in a Manhattan law firm, then a Washington lobbyist.

Hugh Carey is survived by his 11 children.

Sunday Independent

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