ALBANY—In a legally questionable move that is likely to bring a challenge, David Paterson named former M.T.A. chairman Richard Ravitch as his lieutenant governor in a live address Wednesday evening, hoping to break the deadlock in the State Senate.
“The Senate is paralyzed, there is no presiding officer,” Paterson said. “I have selected Richard Ravitch, the former chair of the M.T.A. and the Urban Development Corporation.”
“He will not be a candidate thereafter,” Paterson said. “I have come to seek your support for my unprecedented decision.”
Ravitch’s selection immediately drew praise.
“He’s a congestion buster, definitely,” said Neysa Pranger of the Regional Plan Association, who worked with Ravitch to craft a bailout for the authority earlier this year. “Having seen him work firsthand in M.T.A. negotiations, he’s forceful and respected and I’m sure he would find a way to forge an agreement. He’s been a backroom negotiator his whole life.”
Paterson is set to brief civic and business leaders about his choice this evening. Ravitch, 76, has never before been elected to office.
“Dick would be a brilliant appointment,” said Kathy Wylde, head of the business group Partnership for New York City. “He has enormous credibility with business and labor. He’s famous for reaching across the partisan aisle to solve problems and at this moment in the state political and economic history, I can’t think of a better lieutenant governor. He may actually use the position to make a real difference.”
Already, Republicans and their allies have vowed a legal challenge to the move. State Senator Dean Skelos requested airtime to respond to the announcement. Paterson has also backed Andrew Cuomo, a political rival, into a corner.
The idea of appointing a lieutenant governor has been given some support by good-government groups, which on Monday said publicly they believe Paterson has the power to make an appointment.
“It’s a brilliant appointment that really resonates and hearkens back to an era that we need to re-create,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause NY. “This is a valid interpretation of the law. There is a gap in the constitution that doesn’t clearly provides for succession, and in that case you look at the statute, which does have a clear way to fill a succession.”
But Ravitch’s appointment will have an unclear affect on the stalemate in the State Senate. As lieutenant governor, he would have the power to cast a tie-breaking vote in the 31-31 tied chamber, but could not establish a quorum.
Negotiations over resolving that dispute are ongoing.