PAUL GRONDAHL Staff writer
Section: LIFE & LEISURE,  Page: D1

Date: Tuesday, March 27, 2001

The historic, 41-room Executive Mansion on Eagle Street -- home to future presidents, petty scandal, political intrigue and a devastating fire -- is beginning to simmer as a campaign issue in the 2002 gubernatorial campaign. Twenty-nine consecutive governors had occupied the mansion on a largely full-time basis until the current tenant.

Gov. George Pataki, who has been criticized during his two terms for not living full-time in the governor's mansion, drew barbs again last week from his Democratic challengers due to his part-timer status in the capital city.

Andrew Cuomo and H. Carl McCall, who have announced their intentions to run for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, both went on record saying that if elected they would make the Executive Mansion their full-time, permanent home.

By inference, the Democratic duo took a swipe at Pataki, the Republican incumbent whose full-time residence is a rambling Victorian home in Garrison, Putnam County.

``Gov. Pataki's record speaks for itself and makes the critics' argument about his residency weak and pathetic,'' said Michael McKeon, a Pataki spokesman.

Steven Greenberg, a spokesman for McCall, the state's comptroller, said, ``Albany is the capital of New York, it's the seat of government and if elected he (McCall) would live in the Executive Mansion, an absolutely beautiful and historic home.''

The Executive Mansion would make four residences for McCall who, with his wife, Joyce Brown, president of the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan, owns a home in Clinton Corners, Dutchess County, and a condominium apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. They also have the use of the FIT president's apartment in the Chelsea district of lower Manhattan.

A year ago, McCall sold the couple's condo in the Saratoga Ridge development on Saratoga Lake. ``The comptroller loved Saratoga, but it was very difficult for his wife to be that far north and get a lot of use out of the condo,'' Greenberg said.

They bought the Clinton Corners house as a more convenient midway residence between Albany and Manhattan. McCall frequently travels about the state and, if road-weary, occasionally books a night in an Albany-area hotel, Greenberg said.

If elected governor, Andrew Cuomo would have a sense of deja vu at the Executive Mansion. His dad, Gov. Mario Cuomo, lived there for 12 years with his family until Pataki sent him packing after the 1994 election.

Cuomo the younger would live in the governor's mansion, said spokesman Peter Ragone. The former HUD secretary, Cuomo currently works at a New York City law firm and lives with his wife and three children in an apartment near the United Nations building in Manhattan. They need more room and are house-hunting in the greater New York City area.

Pataki's aides have frequently criticized Mario Cuomo for being isolated in the Executive Mansion and disengaged from the community around him while governor.

``It's a stone-cold fact Mario Cuomo isolated himself in the mansion while the state got into a fiscal mess and a $5 billion deficit during the Cuomo years,'' McKeon said.

Robert Bennett, the retired Executive Mansion butler, who worked for Cuomo and five other governors during four decades, said Cuomo was a homebody.

``It was the only home he had and he was there seven days a week and always working from dawn to dusk and then some,'' Bennett recalled. ``He'd be up in his second-floor office very early in the morning writing in his diary and up there again late at night writing and reading.''

Cuomo's children attended Albany Academy, the University at Albany and Albany Law School.

Pataki's wife, Libby, made the decision not to relocate her four children from Garrison to Albany for reasons of continuity in their school, because of their friends and a sense of normalcy in Putnam County.

``They wanted their kids to grow up as much as possible as normal kids, cleaning up their own rooms and doing chores,'' McKeon said. The governor's mansion has a full staff to handle cooking, cleaning, gardening and other domestic duties.

When the Legislature is in session, though, Gov. Pataki often stays overnight at the mansion by himself -- typically a few nights at the beginning of each week. Otherwise, he commutes to and from Garrison each day or to the governor's New York City office, McKeon said.

``Since his kids and wife are at home, he often works late in Albany and has after-hours staff meetings or gatherings of legislators in the mansion during session,'' McKeon said.

Pataki relaxes while in Albany by walking or jogging in the Corning Preserve along the Hudson River and by tramping about the Pine Bush like his political idol, Teddy Roosevelt. TR was an Assemblyman in Albany in the early 1880s and, beginning in 1899, governor and mansion resident with his six kids for two years.

``Gov. Pataki knows and loves the capital city and supports its economic development,'' said Albany's deputy mayor, Phil Calderone.

``Albany's a wonderful place to live and we'd welcome a governor living here full time. But Gov. Pataki's commitment to Albany and its future is extraordinary,'' Calderone said.

Historically, governors have set their own residency schedule at the Executive Mansion. Gov. Hugh Carey arrived at the mansion in 1981, a widower and father of 12 children, the youngest six of whom lived in the Eagle Street residence and attended Albany public schools.

Gov. Nelson Rockefeller was the longest tenant at 14 years. He typically spent the bulk of the week in Albany and retreated on weekends to the lavish family estate, Kykuit, in North Tarrytown, Westchester County. Rockefeller traveled frequently in the summer months.

After a major fire destroyed much of the governor's mansion in 1961, there was talk of purchasing or building a more contemporary residence in uptown Albany. But Rockefeller fought for restoring the 1857 Eagle Street manse and worked to get it on the national historic register.

Gov. W. Averell Harriman, scion of a railroad fortune, brought an extensive art collection to the mansion. His children were grown during his years as governor but visited Eagle Street occasionally. The Harrimans also spent time at the family estate in Harriman, Orange County, and a New York City residence.

Gov. Thomas Dewey, his wife and two sons lived in the mansion. They also maintained a family farm in Pawling, Dutchess County, where they frequently spent weekends.

``The Executive Mansion was very run down when the Deweys moved in and Mrs. Dewey did a lot of work to improve it. It's been a wonderful house ever since and it's kind of sad that the Patakis don't spend more time there,'' Bennett said.

Nearby politico roosts

The residency of governors in neighboring states is a mixed bag.

Connecticut Gov. John G. Rowland, his wife and their five children live in the governor's residence, a 19-room Georgian Revival home in Hartford with nine fireplaces, nine bathrooms and 15,000 square feet of living space. Three miles from the Capitol, it's been the state's official residence since 1943.

Massachusetts, on the other hand, does not have a governor's mansion. Gov. Paul Cellucci lives with his wife and two kids in Hudson, Mass., a one-hour commute to the statehouse in Boston. A security staff member drives him to and from the Capitol each day. Cellucci is expected to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate soon as ambassador to Canada, making Lt. Gov. Jane Swift acting governor. Swift lives in Williamstown, a three-hour commute to the Capitol. She's the mother of a young daughter and is pregnant, expecting twins in June.

Vermont also makes do without a governor's mansion, among only a handful of states in the nation that don't have one. Gov. Howard Dean lives with his wife and two kids in a modest, two-story wood-frame house in a residential neighborhood of Burlington. It's a 40-minute commute to the Capitol in Montpelier.

``Every so often, somebody raises the possibility of purchasing a mansion for the governor, but it doesn't fly with Vermonters,'' said Susan Allen, a Dean spokeswoman. ``A mansion just isn't in the Vermont tradition.''