Former Governor Hugh Carey, who rescued New York City from a fiscal crisis in the 1970s, died early Sunday at his summer home on Shelter Island. NY1’s Josh Robin filed the following report.
Hugh Carey, New York State's 51st Governor, has died.
The Park Slope native and former Brooklyn congressman was 92. He's credited with rescuing New York City from a fiscal disaster in the 1970s as well as turning around the subway system after years of neglect.
He may be remembered as the man who saved New York, a two-term governor only recently credited for his actions during that financial crisis, which was the state's worst since the Great Depression. Carey cobbled together a coalition that bailed out New York and forced it to live within its fiscal means.
The rescue came with a price: gone were the generous social safety nets that were hallmarks of the city, like free tuition at city universities and low subway fares.
But Carey wouldn't consider the alternative: letting New York go broke.
Former Governor George Pataki said Carey showed that with sober, enlightened leadership, government can help solve even the most difficult problems.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg called Carey a friend and mentor, saying his strong and determined leadership and his ability to bring people together saved New York City during one of the toughest times in our history.
Carey was part of a large Irish-American family in Park Slope, Brooklyn. His father was an oilman who lost his company in the Depression, and his mother was an assistant at the firm.
An outstanding student, he joined the National Guard on a dare and ended up landing on the Normandy Coast a month after D-Day. He helped liberate a German slave labor camp in 1945 but resisted using the images for political advantage years later.
Instead, in his first race for Congress, Carey latched himself to John Kennedy, ousting a well-known Republican incumbent in 1960. A brother's fortune in the oil industry helped then and again when he ran for governor in 1974.
Carey was never supposed to make it past the Democratic primary that year, upsetting the better-connected Howard Samuels. His guru was famed strategist David Garth, under whose advice he lost weight, colored up his grays and painted himself anti-establishment.
The '74 campaign spotlighted few issues that would dominate Carey's first term. The fiscal crisis had been steadily brewing, but out of sight. It boiled over shortly after Carey’s swearing-in.
The city was going bankrupt, a largely self-inflicted condition after it borrowed well beyond its means. But if it went down, the city could take the state with it.
Liberal, but pragmatic, Carey and his staff wrangled a series of state bailouts from a divided state legislature. He had less success with Washington, memorialized by a 1975 Daily News headline that read “FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD.”
Carey considered national political bids but ended his life in public office after a second term, preceding his lieutenant governor, Mario Cuomo. Carey, who spent much of his later years on Shelter Island, then served as an attorney in private practice, occasionally emerging to endorse candidates.
His first wife, Helen, died shortly before his gubernatorial win, leaving him the sole parent of 12 children.
Carey's life wasn't without controversy and much of it is attributed to his second marriage in 1981 to real-estate tycoon Evangeline Gouletas, which sparked months of tabloid frenzy.
After they exchanged vows, it emerged that Gouletas had previously misinformed the governor about how many previous husbands she had. She also claimed one of her exes died when he hadn't.
Around that time, Carey was criticized for odd behavior: showing up late to events, changing hair color and, at one point, offering to drink a glass of dangerous chemicals to show a state office building was safe.
For years, Democrats often lavished praise on Carey’s more polished successor, Governor Mario Cuomo, while barely mentioning his former boss. With interest renewed in New York’s recovery, however, Carey was finally given the credit many thought he so richly deserved.