ALBANY, N.Y. – Republican Gov. George Pataki (search) said Wednesday he will not seek a fourth term next year. "It's the right thing to do," he told The Associated Press during an interview in his state Capitol office. He formally announced his intentions later at a news conference.
"We've done a lot together, and yet there is always more to do," he said. "But there is one thing I've understood from my very first day in public office: That as elected officials we are only temporary stewards of the people's trust."
When asked about a possible presidential run, Pataki, 60, said "That's for down the road. I'm not ruling anything in or out, but my goal is to be the best governor I can be for the next year and a half."
Recent polls in New York had shown Pataki trailing state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer (search), a Democrat, in a possible 2006 gubernatorial matchup and the governor's approval rating had slipped to an all-time low among New York voters earlier this year.
Pataki said he felt it was the "right time" to step aside.
Pataki brought down Democratic icon Mario Cuomo (search) in 1994 and helped pull New York through the horror of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
"We've been through very tough times since 2001 and now I can look at the future of the state with the confidence that you should have," he said.
Earlier, Pataki began calling other elected New York officials to give them the news. The governor broke the news to more than two dozen current and former aides and advisers at a dinner Tuesday night at the Executive Mansion in Albany.
"I salute his years of work and dedication to the people of New York, and wish him and his family the best," said Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (search), considered a front-runner for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.
The governor was to meet with top financial supporters, who could bankroll a presidential bid, in New York City on Wednesday night.
Pataki had been under pressure from some fellow Republicans and others to make a decision about his re-election intentions to give the party a chance to be competitive against the high-profile Spitzer.
Melding a liberal social agenda that included support for gay and abortion rights with a tax-cutting, tough-on-crime conservatism, Pataki easily won re-election in 1998 and 2002 in a state where there are 5 million Democrats and 3 million Republicans.
In 1999, Pataki flirted with a possible run for the GOP presidential nomination, but finding few takers he quickly threw his support to George W. Bush.
A year ahead of Bush at Yale University during their undergraduate years, Pataki was included on the Texas governor's short list of potential running mates in 2000.
Aides to Rudolph Giuliani (search), the marquee Republican of New York politics, have said the former New York City mayor is too busy with private business interests to run for governor. Giuliani has been leading in national polls looking at the race for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination.
Billionaire Michael Bloomberg (search), New York City's Republican mayor, said earlier this week he has no interest in the governorship. Without Pataki, Giuliani or Bloomberg, the New York GOP may be scrambling for a competitive candidate.
Former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld (search), who moved back to his native New York five years ago, has said he would seriously look at running if Pataki bowed out. There has even been some talk of the party turning to billionaire B. Thomas Golisano (search), who has already run three losing races for governor as the candidate of the Independence Party.