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Major union endorses Pataki for N.Y. governor

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Republican New York Gov. George Pataki accepted the backing of one of the state's most powerful labor unions Tuesday morning, Local 1199 of the Service Employees International, before an enthusiastic crowd of hospital workers.

"It became clear that this union had not had a relationship with any previous governor as strong in terms of policy," said Local 1199 President Dennis Rivera.

The union has not supported a Republican for statewide office since the 1960s, but Rivera said the union's executive committee voted unanimously to endorse Pataki over two major Democrats seeking to challenge the governor in November -- former federal Housing Secretary Andrew Cuomo and state Comptroller H. Carl McCall.

Tuesday's move is a significant setback for Cuomo and McCall. Local 1199 endorsed Cuomo's father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, in four separate elections, including the 1994 contest between Cuomo and Pataki.

At one point during Tuesday's news conference at a Bronx hospital, Pataki responded in Spanish when requested to do so by a Spanish-language reporter. His response was met with cheers by the largely Latino audience.

The union endorsement comes after Pataki approved a legislative package in January aimed at raising salaries for health-care workers. With 215,000 members and a sophisticated political operation, Local 1199 is the largest private sector union in the state of New York.