New York's Republican Gov. George Pataki could have been mixing apples and oranges when he refused a Valentine's Day gift basket from the state's thrift trade group.

The Community Bankers Association of New York State tried to present Mr. Pataki and legislative leaders with baskets of fruit, pasta, and candies for their staffs.

But the new governor rejected the sent to him basket, startling the thrift trade group, which considered the gift "just a way to cheer up a midwinter day and a crummy, cold Albany," said spokesman Stephen W. Rice.

The governor's basket was the only one returned, Mr. Rice said. The baskets, which cost less than $65 each, were intended for the staffs to dig into, not to influence officials, he added.

"You don't really go around winning friends and influencing people with pasta and fruit," Mr. Rice said, laughing.

According to state ethics laws, the governor and other executive branch officials are allowed to accept gifts of less than $75.

As far as Mr. Rice is concerned, the spurned gift basket won't result in sour grapes.

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Robert P. Pincus, president and chief executive of Franklin Bancorp. in Washington, D.C., is trying to take the bank from the rafters to center court.

The $264 million-asset bank is sponsoring a college basketball tournament next December featuring such teams as the University of Maryland, University of Florida, George Washington University, and the University of Massachusetts. The teams will play in what is to be known as the "Franklin National Bank Classic" at USAir Arena, and the games will be televised nationally, Mr. Pincus said.

"It gives us a lot of credibility," Mr. Pincus said. "While we don't need the national coverage . . . it makes people think that this bank is really bigger than we really are."

Proceeds benefit the Children's Charities Foundation, and Mr. Pincus expects to raise $500,000.

Mr. Pincus is well known in Washington for trying to bring a Major League Baseball team to the city. He also started a tennis tournament that brought in stars like Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, and Boris Becker.

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Here's a new twist on the long-distance war.

Commerce Bancorp of Cherry Hill, N.J., is offering discount long- distance telephone service to its residential and business customers through a program called Commerce Connection.

The $2.3 billion-asset company is working with Intelnet, one of the largest resellers of MCI service, to provide the bank's customers with the same cheap service Commerce uses.

Residential customers could see savings of as much as 30% on their bills, while commercial customers could save up to 40%.

Only Commerce customers are eligible.

The program has already signed up more than 3,000 customers, mostly residential.

"We literally are getting our customers MCI service cheaper than they can get it," said Dennis M. DiFlorio, Commerce's chief retail officer.

But Mr. DiFlorio said Commerce isn't entering the "long-distance business."

"Long-distance telephone service is not one of the permissible banking services," Mr. DiFlorio said. "I think banks are faced with enough challenges without getting into the midst of telephone wars."

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