Calling him the "world-class leader" New York needs in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, a 40,000-member construction workers' union endorsed Republican Gov. George Pataki on Tuesday for a third term.

"In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 tragedy and the economic downturn, we all know that New York state needs a strong leader to guide the state through its recovery ... That's why we are here today to step up to the plate," said Armand Sabitoni, a leader of the New York State Laborers' Union during an outdoor ceremony the union's training facility in the Albany suburb of Glenmont.

Pataki already has the backing of unions representing more than 225,000 workers, including the more than 200,000-member Local 1199 of the Service International Employees Union that represents health care workers, mainly in the New York City area.

The governor's labor support has been a blow for the two major Democrats seeking to challenge Pataki, former federal Housing Secretary Andrew Cuomo, the elder son of former Gov. Mario Cuomo, and state Comptroller H. Carl McCall.

In 1994, the laborers' union had backed Mario Cuomo in his unsuccessful bid for a fourth term against Pataki. The union backed Pataki in his successful bid for a second term in 1998.

"I can remember back to 1993 and 1994 when so many of you were out of work ... sitting home with nothing to do because we had failed policies that drove investment and drove jobs and drove construction out of this state," Pataki said, criticizing the elder Cuomo without mentioning him by name. "Well, we have turned that around."

Sabitoni's characterization of Pataki as a "world-class leader" appeared aimed at the younger Cuomo. He has come under fire for criticism that Pataki ceded post-Sept. 11 leadership to then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and simply "held the leader's coat."

"Governor Pataki's strong efforts to strengthen New York's economy have provided more public and private investment in our state and more construction work for our membership," said Sabitoni, the union's general secretary-treasurer and regional manager. "And time after time, Governor Pataki has demonstrated the leadership needed to guide our state through difficult times."

Recent polls have shown Pataki well ahead of both Cuomo and McCall and with strong support among union households.