ALBANY—David Paterson—affable colleague, funny orator, passive and heretofore ineffective governor—is trying to show that he can be a fighter, after all.
In recent days, as polls continue to show him getting destroyed in a hypothetical primary next year against Andrew Cuomo, he has attemped to warn off would-be challengers from his base in Harlem, staked a claim to the suburban vote with a plan to curb property taxes, attempted to take possession, finally, of Albany’s efforts to produce a plan to bridge the M.T.A. deficit, and aggressively rebutted a leaked report that good-government groups want an investigation into the leaks about Caroline Kennedy.
At the same time, his campaign people are no longer leaving unstated their suspicions that Cuomo is actively trying to push the governor over a cliff, and Paterson seems increasingly willing to demonstrate publicly that all is not well between him and Malcolm Smith.
To those who have known the governor for a long time and remain in his corner, it’s all somewhat refreshing.
“Good,” said State Senator Eric Schneiderman, an old friend and confidant of Paterson. “David’s doing what he should be doing. There is much more support and potential support out there.”
“It’s not a sign of desperation,” Schneiderman continued. “It’s a sign he’s doing what he should be doing.”
The new strategy follows a convening of Paterson’s closest advisers—led by former chief of staff Charles O’Byrne—to develop a comeback plan. It starts, necessarily, with a policy breakthrough—or at least the appearance that the governor is trying really hard to achieve one.
Hence, perhaps, Paterson’s proposed compromise on the M.T.A. funding plan that would rebate some of the payroll taxes levied on school districts to raise money for transportation, and his attempts to promote the package in interviews with The Times and the Daily News, in which he urged quick action.
Hence, also, his decision to ambush Smith with a same-sex marriage bill that’s far from certain to pass the Senate.
(Both men say publicly that nothing has changed in their relationship; one person who knows both Paterson and Smith explained that it’s the natural course of “Malcolm coming into his own as a leader, and David realizing that and reacting to it.”)
“It’s just that this is the first opportunity he’s had,” said Assemblyman Gary Pretlow. “Now he’s going to fight back and show us who he is. I’ve always felt David is a capable, affable guy. And with the win of that Congressional seat, he looks like a genius.”
“He is putting together a team that will fashion a first-class campaign, and he’s not going anywhere,” former comptroller Carl McCall—a staunch Paterson supporter who ran for governor in 2002, after staving off a primary challenge from Andrew Cuomo—told me. “That is the message that he’s communicating.”
The flip side is that Paterson remains Paterson. His flaws persist, chief among them a propensity to tell people what they want to hear and sometimes waffle on major decisions—the same flaws that were laid brutally bare during the selection of Hillary Clinton’s Senate replacement.
“He’s trying to redirect himself, but we don’t know where,” said Alan Lubin, executive vice president for New York State United Teachers, an organization that has had its differences with Paterson. “Is there hope that he can turn it around? I think there is. But it all depends on what’s going on.”
Lubin noted that no one has secured his organization’s support for governor in 2010.