Hugh Carey

It's hard today to remember how bad things were in New York in the mid-1970s. Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller had run up enormous debts, and New York City was borrowing money to cover daily expenses. The state's savior came in the form of a liberal Democratic Congressman from Brooklyn who announced upon winning the 1974 gubernatorial race, that "the days of wine and roses are over."

Hugh Carey, who died Aug. 7 at 92, used every weapon in his arsenal, from loan restructuring to political strong-arming, to get the city and state back to financial health. Where he lacked the tools,...