State Senator David Paterson’s bid to be Eliot Spitzer’s candidate for Lieutenant Governor and campaign-trail partner was launched last month in a flurry of confusion and political intrigue. It stunned his Harlem-based world, and left him for a few days opposed by a candidate who had been endorsed by his wife and father. And when things settled down, Mr. Paterson unsettled some of Mr. Spitzer’s supporters with a public promise of a “Paterson-Spitzer administration.”
Those who follow the Harlem Senator’s career were not surprised.
Mr. Spitzer selected a man described as “a living contradiction” by one longtime associate. Indeed, Mr. Paterson’s 20 years in public life have been characterized by an array of contradictions, some of them openly stated, many irreconcilable. He’s a maverick champion of the younger generation whose Senate seat was handed to him, via a special election, by top Harlem Democrats allied with his powerful father, Basil Paterson. He’s a self-described reformer who spent nearly two decades in a comfortable political sinecure before launching a reform campaign as Senate Minority Leader.
The contradictions extend to his official biography: for years it stated, falsely, that he had been born and raised in Harlem, and it offered a shifting description of his legal career. His stance on a defining issue, the death penalty, is nuanced to the point of contradiction.
Mr. Paterson’s gifts—penetrating intelligence, an immediate human connection and an inspiring story of overcoming near-total blindness—make him a natural running mate for the stiffer, privileged, decisive Mr. Spitzer. But the chaos that has followed him through public life makes him a natural choice in another way. Mr. Spitzer has a strong stomach for risk, and Mr. Spitzer’s campaign, according to Mr. Paterson, engaged in no real vetting of its lieutenant-governor candidate—a man who brings to the campaign a complicated relationship with the truth and a difficulty in saying no.