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Former governor Carey dies at 92; Kept state afloat during '70s crisis

Former New York Gov. Hugh Carey was at his best when faced with a crisis and when he took office in 1975, New York City wobbled at the edge of fiscal calamity.

The governor had inherited the worst economic climate since the Great Depression. New York City, the nation's Wall Street-powered economic engine, was nearing bankruptcy. The well-to-do son of an entrepreneur rose to the challenge, forced major changes in the way New York governed and financed itself, and stared down a Republican president to keep New York City from insolvency.

The liberal Democrat who reversed the tax-and-spend excesses of his Republican predecessor to keep the city and state afloat died Sunday at his summer home on Shelter Island. He was 92.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who announced Carey's death, called him a "true American success story."

"Declaring that 'the days of wine and roses were over,' Governor Carey looked to statesmanship and compromise, rather than partisanship or parochialism, to get the state's fiscal house in order," Cuomo said in a statement. "He called for shared sacrifice and asked all New Yorkers to come together. New Yorkers across the state heard the governor's call to action, followed his lead, and the ship was righted."

Before he became governor, Carey spent seven terms in the House of Representatives, representing his Brooklyn district from 1961 to 1974. Charles E. Schumer, now a U.S. senator, took up his seat when Carey left the House the day before being sworn in as governor. Carey served two terms, from 1975 to 1982.

"This government will begin today the painful, difficult, imperative process of learning to live within its means," Carey declared in his inaugural address on Jan. 1, 1975.

His predecessor, Republican Nelson A. Rockefeller, had run up much higher taxes and enormous debt as he built a legacy of state universities and highways while in New York City, Mayor John Lindsay, a Republican turned Democrat, followed a similar spending pattern that led to deep deficits in the 1974-75 recession.

With New York City at the brink of bankruptcy and threatening to take the state down with it, Carey took drastic action, seizing control of the city's finances, engineering more than $1 billion in state loans to bail out the city and mustering the backing needed to reorganize its shaky finances and restore confidence in both the city and state.

Carey campaigned successfully for appointment, rather than election, of judges to the state's highest court, a move that was seen as insulating the Court of Appeals from politics. He helped bring the Democratic National Convention to Madison Square Garden in 1976 and 1980 and sought to again stamp New York as a singular American destination, launching the iconic and still-imitated "I Love New York" campaign.

Hugh Leo Carey was born in Brooklyn in 1919. He left St. John's College in 1939 to enlist in a National Guard horseback cavalry unit at Camp Drum in northern New York. He fought in the infantry with the 104th Division in France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany, and was a decorated lieutenant colonel when he was discharged in 1946.

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