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The Daughter Also Rises

Emily Pataki Ponders a Future in Elective Office

She looks like any bright, young ambitious woman who has come to Washington, D.C., for the summer to work in politics.

But this 24-year-old who was nervously twirling the ice cubes in her water glass at a Georgetown restaurant recently has already campaigned in all 62 counties of New York and has cut a political TV commercial.

“I thought it was fun,” the young woman recalled. “I’m incredibly outgoing. I’m not shy, I enjoy public speaking. I take after my father in a lot of classical ways of being out on the stump.”

The woman is Emily Pataki. She happens to be the daughter of three-term New York Gov. George Pataki (R).

The eldest of four children, Emily Pataki is clearly comfortable with the trappings of political life.

“I used to have a little T-shirt when I was a toddler that said, ‘My daddy’s the mayor,’” she said.

That was when George Pataki, 58, was mayor of Peekskill, a city of 22,000 people along the Hudson River, about an hour north of New York City.

As George Pataki’s political career has progressed, his daughter has come right along with him. She said she was author of the tag line “The man you call Governor, I call Dad,” which was used in ads during the 2002 campaign.

“My father’s been an elected official ever since I was in diapers,” Pataki explained.

Even though her political lineage — and possibly, her political future — is in the Empire State, Pataki has been in Washington this summer, working as a writer/ researcher for the Republican Leadership Council. For a reported $5,000 a month — a far cry from a struggling intern’s salary — Pataki has helped craft messages for the six-year-old organization, which is dedicated to, in the words of its mission statement, electing “common-sense conservatives.” It is an organization that sees itself as a counterpoint to some of the more vocal social conservative elements that dominate the national GOP.

In short, a group whose politics aren’t all that different from Gov. Pataki’s.

Emily Pataki described herself as a moderate Republican.

“I’m pro-choice,” she volunteered.

She said she values “demographic diversity” in university admissions, calling herself a “proponent of diversity in academics and social environments,” though she wouldn’t say if she supported affirmative action.

Women’s issues — and the challenges facing women in politics — are clearly things she thinks about a lot.

“I think being a female certainly lends itself to considering your own political beliefs,” she said, dwelling on the sometimes opposite pull of career and family.

Pataki said she wants to raise children, and she’s hoping “to pursue a balanced life in some capacity.” Politics, she said “is in many ways off-balance, when you consider the sacrifices of a campaign.”

And yet campaigning is what many people believe Emily Pataki was born to do. As soon as she finished her stint as a high-paid adviser to her dad’s re-election campaign, rumors began circulating that Pataki was contemplating a run for Congress in New York’s 19th district, a Hudson Valley seat now occupied by five-term Rep. Sue Kelly (R).

But Kelly doesn’t have to worry yet about being shunted aside — Pataki said she isn’t jumping full-time into political life, at least for now. Instead, she’ll begin Columbia University Law School in September, and she said she’s unsure of what to do afterward.

“Perhaps I’ll go into practice after law school,” she said. “Perhaps that’s the next step. Maybe not, maybe I’ll work in journalism a little bit.” Nonetheless, she said — twice in a row — that she’s “not ruling [running for office] out.”

Many New York Republicans relish that prospect and say Pataki can do any number of things if she wants to.

“What’s the old phrase — the world’s an oyster. She’s obviously got a lot of potential,” said Kieran Mahoney, a long-time adviser to Gov. Pataki and one of the most powerful GOP strategists in New York.

Democrats agree — to a point.

“It’s good that Emily is looking into a career in politics,” said Chung Seto, executive director of the New York State Democratic Party. “We encourage women to run for office every day at the Democratic Party.”

Seto warned, however, that Pataki wouldn’t get a free pass to elected office should she ever decide to run.

“Her father has proven that while he talks a good talk, when it comes to educating our children, or providing good wages for our teachers and other New Yorkers, he has failed. That’s going to be a legacy that she’s going to have to run on,” Seto said. “I’m sure that Democrats alike and young people and women are going to remind her about that.”

But Pataki isn’t thinking political legacy at the moment, she’s merely wondering about student life. Pataki said she’s unsure what area of law she’ll pursue at Columbia, though her interests include criminal, constitutional and intellectual property law — as well as literature and psychology.

Admission to Columbia Law marks the second time the eldest Pataki daughter has chosen a school her father graduated from, a trajectory Pataki said hasn’t been deliberate. Like the New York governor, Emily also earned her undergraduate degree from Yale University — with a major in American studies.

Afterward, she worked at Bloomberg News and interned at ABC News.

Pataki said life in Washington has so far agreed with her.

“I’ve completely fallen in love with Georgetown,” she said. “It’s a beautiful, nice place to live.”

Maybe she’ll be back.

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