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Pierre Rinfret, 82; Lost to Cuomo in '90 N.Y. Gov.'s Race

July 06, 2006|From the Associated Press

Pierre Rinfret, the economist and political neophyte whose 1990 loss to Mario Cuomo was the worst in modern times for a Republican running for governor in New York, has died. He was 82.

Rinfret died of heart-related problems June 29 on Nantucket, Mass., where he and his wife of more than 57 years had lived since 1991, his son, Peter Alan Rinfret, said Wednesday.

The elder Rinfret had been briefly hospitalized at Nantucket Cottage Hospital, where he died, his son said.

The Manhattan-based Rinfret, who agreed to become the GOP candidate for governor after party leaders failed to find any well-known and politically experienced challenger to face Cuomo, collected only 22% of the vote in 1990 as Cuomo easily won a third term. A Conservative Party candidate, Herbert London, captured 21% of the vote.

The Rinfret debacle led to a rebuilding of the state GOP by then-Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato and a top D'Amato aide, William Powers, who took over as state GOP chairman. In 1994, a then little-known Republican state senator, George E. Pataki, drove Cuomo from the governorship with the help of the D'Amato-Powers team.

Just before the 1994 election, Rinfret told WVOX radio in Westchester County that he was backing Cuomo's bid for a fourth term. It was during that interview that Rinfret said of his own candidacy, "I really never thought, from Day One, that we could win. But I do believe in a civic responsibility."

Rinfret's campaign for governor quickly became something resembling comedic theater. He spent almost as much time criticizing state GOP leaders, many of whom had walked away from his candidacy after he balked at self-financing the effort, as he did attacking Cuomo, who largely ignored his Republican challenger.

Less than two months before the election, Rinfret was so upset with what he saw as a lack of support from the GOP that he threatened to quit and "go sailing." After losing badly to Cuomo, Rinfret said his days as a politician were at an end. "I'm out of the game for life," he said in late 1990.

"It was such a small part of his career," Peter Rinfret said Wednesday, noting that his father has been an advisor to Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon and had a successful business career. "He was a very confident man."

The younger Rinfret, a businessman who was a finance co-chairman of Arizona Sen. John McCain's unsuccessful run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000, said his father rarely talked about the race for governor in recent years.

John Faso, the former state Assembly Republican minority leader who is this year's GOP candidate for governor of new York, served briefly as Rinfret's 1990 campaign manager. Faso quit mid-campaign, citing differences with the candidate. "He certainly was a man of strong convictions, and someone who had an interesting and varied background," Faso recalled.

The Canadian-born Rinfret studied electrical engineering at the University of Maine and received a master's degree in business administration from New York University. He won a Bronze Star as a U.S. soldier for his part in taking out an enemy machine-gun nest in France during World War II.

Rinfret underwent six-way heart bypass surgery in December 2003.

In addition to his wife, Ida, and son, Rinfret is survived by a daughter, Suzanne Rinfret Moore, and three grandchildren.

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