October 11, 2000

Pataki Calls E.B. White '21 'Wyatt or Somebody'

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Perhaps Gov. George E. Pataki should learn a little more about Cornell during his next visit to Ithaca.

Just two weeks after visiting the University during Homecoming weekend to, among other things, watch his alma mater Yale lose a pivotal Ivy League football contest, Pataki generated a substantial amount of publicity last weekend when he failed to identify one of Cornell’s most celebrated alumni, E.B. White ’21. The mishap occurred after the second debate between Senate hopefuls Hillary Rodham Clinton and Rick Lazio.

White authored the children’s classic “Charlotte’s Web” and the classic writing manual “The Elements of Style” along with William Strunk.

White’s name originally surfaced at the end of Sunday’s debate in Manhattan when the First Lady, a Democrat, and the four-term Republican Congressman from Long Island were asked to provide their definitions of a New Yorker.

Clinton began her answer by saying, “E.B. White and others have done that over the years.” She then discussed how New York State has historically been a place where “you can stake your claim, you can build a future, you can dream your dreams.”

After the debate’s conclusion, selected supporters for each candidate retreated to the “spin room,” where they praised their favored candidate to the media. Pataki, who is staunchly behind Lazio, used the media session to criticize Clinton for her reference to White during the debate.

“Rick Lazio looks, sounds and talks like a New Yorker,” Pataki said. “Mrs. Clinton quoted some guy, Wyatt or somebody — I don’t think he was from Brooklyn — with some definition of a New Yorker that she must have read somewhere.”

He continued, “I don’t know who that guy was. I don’t know what he wrote. I don’t know where he was from. But it sure doesn’t sound to me like that guy was a New Yorker or understood New York the way we do.”

When told by a member of the media that White was a long-time writer for The New Yorker, Pataki replied, “Well … maybe the average member of the media who lives in Manhattan, when they’re quoting New York, would use E.B. White, or whatever his name is. I don’t think people from Brooklyn or Peekskill would have quoted that person.”

On Monday, Pataki’s office released a statement in which a spokesperson said, “The Governor values learning. He thinks everyone should be reading ‘Charlotte’s Web’ to their kids.”

White, a former Sun editor in chief, was born in Mount Vernon, New York in 1899. After serving as an Army private, he came to Cornell. White later went on to achieve fame as a columnist for the newly established New Yorker magazine. After moving to Maine in 1939, he penned “The Elements of Style,” “Charlotte’s Web” and “Stuart Little.”

E. B. WHITE died in 1985.

Pataki has visited Cornell to attend the Yale football game for each of the past two years. Last year, President Hunter R. Rawlings III gave the Governor a tour of the campus before the game.

Pataki’s post-debate remarks about E.B. White somewhat overshadowed Sunday’s Senatorial clash. During the debate, the candidates discussed topics such as the recent unrest in the Middle East, school vouchers, Medicare and public financing of sports stadiums. They also attacked each other on the issue of campaign finance with Clinton alleging that Lazio broke an agreement to ban the use of “soft money” and Lazio chiding the First Lady for inviting contributors to stay overnight at the White House.

The candidates met in Buffalo last month and will debate again in New York City later this month. Most polls show the First Lady carrying a slight lead into the last month before the Nov. 7 election.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Archived article by Aron Goetzl