Within hours of the governor’s prostitute story going public in The New York Times, even as he waited for some sort of indication about the intentions of Mr. Spitzer, Mr. Paterson set about preparing to take over, calling current and former officials to form a plan.
Former State Comptroller H. Carl McCall, whose chance to be the first black governor of New York ended unsuccessfully with a loss to Governor George Pataki in 2002, received a call from Mr. Paterson that very afternoon. “What he said to me is, he is prepared to do whatever is necessary to provide the leadership in this state,” Mr. McCall said. “That’s the type of determination he has. I think David has the ability to do the job. David has been tested. He has been in the Legislature at a very top position for a long time. He is a very smart fellow who I think will be able to step in and provide the leadership we need, if it comes to that.”
Charlie King, who lost to Andrew Cuomo in the race to succeed Eliot Spitzer as attorney general, said Mr. Paterson’s readiness could have lasting consequences on other black candidates who seek the office.
“I think how he acquits himself over the next two years will determine whether it was a positive piece of history or a setback,” said Mr. King, who spoke of Mr. Paterson’s vast learning curve. “I think it is going to be a big challenge for David to run the state.”
There is some trepidation among New York Democrats that Mr. Paterson may not be up to the challenge.
Tom Duane, a Democratic state senator, said that as a senator Mr. Paterson had been a dependable ally on the all-important reform issue, as well as on helping pass hate-crime bills that were acceptable to the LGBT community. He said that while Mr. Paterson was certainly a product of the Harlem political culture and machine, “he has often gone his own way.”
“I know that they consider him one of their own,” said Mr. Duane. “David has a maverick streak also. When he wants to go his own way, he goes his own way.”
Some other self-described outcasts in the Senate have warmed to him, too.
“In the Democratic conference I am the only one fighting against abortion and gay rights,” said Senator Ruben Diaz Sr. “But David Paterson always showed me respect and made me feel part of the conference.”