Man who saved New York from bankruptcy

HUGH CAREY; HUGH CAREY, who has died aged 92, was the man mainly responsible for saving New York city from bankruptcy soon after…

HUGH CAREY;HUGH CAREY, who has died aged 92, was the man mainly responsible for saving New York city from bankruptcy soon after he became governor of the state in 1975.

He was also deeply involved with other well-known US politicians in seeking to find a peaceful solution to the Northern Ireland Troubles and was one of the so-called “Four Horsemen” with speaker Tip O’Neill, and senators Ted Kennedy and Daniel Moynihan.

Carey was a determined opponent of Irish-American fundraising in the New York area through the Irish Northern Aid Committee (Noraid) which he suspected went to support the Provisional IRA in the 1970s and 1980s. Through visits to Ireland he built up his own network of influential contacts North and South and in the early days of the Troubles he was critical of British army crackdowns in nationalist areas.

Prompted by the lobbying of the Irish diplomat Michael Lillis, Carey joined O’Neill, Kennedy and Moynihan to issue a statement on St Patrick’s Day 1977 which denounced violence in Northern Ireland. It appealed to the IRA and other paramilitaries to “renounce their campaigns of death and destruction” and to American organisations to stop supporting them. The statement by four such influential Irish-American politicians was seen as a turning point in the campaign by the Irish Embassy in Washington to neutralise Noraid’s efforts and undermine support for the IRA among Irish-Americans.


Later that year on a visit to Dublin, Carey made a blistering attack on the IRA in a speech at the Royal College of Surgeons entitled “The Politics of Death” and he denounced the IRA as killers and Marxists. The Four Horsemen campaign encouraged president Carter, in the face of strong British opposition, to take the first official US initiative on Northern Ireland in August 1977 by promising increased investment there in the event of a “peaceful settlement”.

Carey’s stance on Northern Ireland later became more critical of what he saw as British stalling. He boycotted a dinner in New York in honour of then prime minister Jim Callaghan, and he even called for economic sanctions against Britain to bring about withdrawal of British forces.

Hugh Leo Carey was born in a prosperous area of Brooklyn on April 11th, 1919. His father, who had Irish ancestry, was in the petroleum industry but survived near bankruptcy in the Depression era. Carey studied law but his studies were interrupted by the second World War and his service in Europe in the infantry where he reached the rank of colonel. He fought in the battle for Cologne and helped liberate Nordhausen concentration camp, an experience which is said to have made him a strong opponent of the death penalty. As governor of New York he vetoed six bills to restore capital punishment in the state.

After working for a time for his father’s business, Carey was elected to Congress in 1960 on a Democratic ticket and represented Brooklyn there until 1974.

He was one of the first New York politicians to oppose the Vietnam War. In 1974 he decided to stand for governor of New York, succeeding the Republican, Nelson Rockefeller. Carey was not the party’s first choice but he won easily. This meant moving with his large family to the state capital in Albany.

He could not have picked a tougher time to take over as both New York city and state were in dire financial straits due to lavish overspending on building projects by Rockefeller and mayor John Lindsay. Carey in his first address to the state legislature in Albany warned: “The days of plenty, the days of wine and roses, are over”.

The city’s finances were in such a state that bankruptcy and the consequent disruption of public services seemed inevitable. Carey took emergency powers, mobilised a task-force to draw up a rescue plan and made frequent trips to Washington to seek federal aid, arguing that for New York to default would be catastrophic for other cities and even the US itself.

But President Ford was unsympathetic and said no, leading to the famous headline in the New York Daily News, "Ford to City: Drop Dead". Ford soon backtracked and made federal aid available. Carey's rescue plan succeeded and last year a book was published about it called The Man Who Saved New York.

During his time as governor, Carey brought in reforms in the treatment of the mentally ill, abolishing the large institutions and providing community care. He changed the system of electing senior judges to selection on merit and oversaw several economic development projects in New York. He supported pro-abortion laws but years later regretted his stance and in 1992 signed the pro-life document Caring about women, caring for the unborn.

Carey was deeply affected by the death from cancer of his wife Helen, the mother of his 14 children. Shortly before she died, the family toured Ireland in a convoy of several cars seeking family roots. Two sons had been earlier killed in a car crash. Another son, Paul, who served in the Clinton White House, died in 2001.

After a second term as governor, the first Democrat to be re-elected in 40 years, Carey in 1981 married a wealthy Greek-American real estate investor, Evangeline Gouletas. The press seized on the fact that she had claimed on the marriage licence to have had two ex-husbands, one of whom was dead, but in fact she had had three marriages and at least one ex-spouse was alive.

Carey, a devout Catholic, also had problems with his church over the marriage in a Greek Orthodox church. They divorced in 1989. Carey described the marriage as his “greatest failure”.

After politics, Carey returned to the practice of law. He kept up his interest in Northern Ireland and supported the granting of a visa for Gerry Adams to visit New York in 1994. He accompanied President Clinton on visits to Ireland.

However, he endorsed Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election even though Hillary Clinton was then a New York senator. Carey had considered running for president in 1976 when Jimmy Carter won the Democratic nomination but felt constrained by his wife’s recent death.

Carey liked socialising and to meet friends in bars and nightclubs. His late night party piece was to belt out New York, New York. In the year before he died he was honoured by the city calling the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel after him.

He sponsored the Governor Hugh Carey Cup for a top level golf competition every two years between the Golfing Union of Ireland and the Metropolitan Golf Association of New York .

He is survived by his daughters Alexandria, Susan, Marianne, Nancy and Helen; and sons Christopher, Michael, Donald, Bryan, Kevin and Thomas.

Hugh Leo Carey: born April 11th, 1919; died August 7th, 2011