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Pataki-Silver: Rancor from start to finish

After 12 years of threats, yelling and phone slamming, Gov. George E. Pataki and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on Thursday ended their rocky relationship with what a divorce judge might describe as irreconcilable differences.

Hours after talks collapsed over several policy issues that Pataki and lawmakers were seeking to OK just three weeks before the governor's term expired, the two men did not conceal their ill feelings toward each other.

In separate sessions with reporters Thursday, Pataki and Silver lashed out at each other, knowing they'd never have to face the other again at the negotiating table.

"In 17 days, we'll have an extreme makeover in this state, and I look forward to it," Silver said.

Asked if this week's negotiations with Silver were probably the last between the two state leaders, Pataki responded: "Probably? I hope so."

When the war of words ended, Pataki accused Silver of letting sexual predators prowl the streets.

Later, Silver charged that the governor tried to "extort" deals by dangling a legislative pay raise, while secretly trying to push a $1 billion early retirement bill to help give golden parachutes to many of his longtime aides leaving state service.

"It's not ending on a bad note. This is one note. It was bad from the beginning to the end," Norman Adler, a longtime political consultant and lobbyist, said of Pataki and Silver's relationship.

"The speaker and the governor didn't click personally. They philosophically came from very different places and culturally they're worlds apart," Adler added.

The Pataki-Silver feuds have had significant effects on public policy over the years -- delaying deals on tax cuts and new crime bills, or killing reform ideas because the two seldom found trust. And this time, it meant no agreements on defining how the state could keep violent sexual offenders confined in mental health facilities after their prison terms expire.

No deals on allowing more charter schools.

No deals on a flurry of capital projects.

And no deal on one matter 212 members of the Senate and Assembly cared about: legislative pay raises.

The Pataki and Silver antipathy is a long trail.

Silver supporters say Pataki made him a personal whipping target, recalling the GOP using Silver's face in television ads to try to defeat upstate Assembly members. They believe Pataki timed certain things to happen late on Fridays -- while Silver, an Orthodox Jew, was observing the Sabbath. They talk of the year Pataki vetoed pork barrel spending by Assembly Democrats.

Pataki's supporters say Silver is so involved in the art of deal-making that he loses sight of governing.

So enamored in treating negotiations as chess matches, Silver routinely makes the sounds of a deal, only to back off later and throw more roadblocks on the table, Pataki allies say. Silver, too, has a long history of personal attacks on Pataki, these people add, whether it's poking fun at Pataki's presidential ambitions or questioning his hiring choices.

For the governor, the final blow was Silver's refusal to do a bill to keep certain sex offenders locked up after their prison terms expire. The state's highest court recently rejected the way Pataki has confined more than 128 convicted sex offenders after their prison terms expired.

Pataki called lawmakers back to deal with the matter Wednesday. But, as is often the case, the issue became linked with several unrelated items, including permitting more charter schools and the legislative pay raise. In the end, nothing got done.

By Thursday morning, Pataki said some sex offenders could be let out of jail "to prey on children, to prey on women, thanks to the political failure of Sheldon Silver to allow a vote in the state Assembly."

Silver said the state can -- and is -- using another provision to keep the affected offenders confined until a new law is passed, which he predicted would be done early next year.

"Not one sex offender has been released from prison as a result of that court decision," Silver said.

Normally, the sides keep their private talks secret. Not so Thursday.

Pataki said Silver was pushing not just for a one-time pay hike for lawmakers, but regular, cost-of-living increases. Silver denied that, though later appeared warm to the idea.

For his part, Silver said Pataki sought billions of dollars in last-minute capital spending deals without saying precisely where the money was going. And he outlined the details of what he said was a good-bye, early retirement measure to benefit outgoing Pataki administration officials that would cost the state $400 million and local governments $400 million.

Silver sought to highlight the charter school issue, saying Pataki refused to make any changes to the system -- despite concerns raised since they were first allowed in 1998. The only thing the governor would discuss, he said, was raising the limit from 100 charters -- which has already been met -- to 150.

While some lawmakers might have liked a pay raise, Silver said they were not going to allow Pataki to "extort" them by dangling a possible pay raise in return for the charter schools and other deals.

Come Jan. 1, all eyes will be on Silver to see if his sour relations with the governor end as Eliot Spitzer, a member of his own party, takes office. In recent weeks, many lobbyists and lawmakers said they see personality issues between the two strong-willed Democrats showing up at some point next year.

e-mail: tprecious@buffnews.com

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