ALBANY—It was 1988 or 1989, "or something like that," and David Paterson was in the legislative gym trying to make an electric exercise bike work. He was having trouble.
"This legislator comes over. He's tall. Clearly from the assembly because I don't know him. And he in that very neighborly, quaint way, said, ‘Hey, can I help you out?'" Paterson recalled.
It was, of course, then-Assemblyman George Pataki meeting then-State Senator Paterson, at a time when both had many fewer responsibilities and had little inkling that they would both serve as governor in the footsteps of Rockefeller and two Roosevelts.
At a ceremony unveiling Pataki's official portrait, both men told of a specific encounter in the gym involving State Senator Bill Stachowski, a Buffalo Democrat who played football in college and remains highly devoted both to the sport and to keeping his body in good enough shape to play it.
Stachowski was trying to bench press "like 900 pounds or something," Paterson said, and was having trouble. He called for help, and Paterson and Pataki rushed to his aid, lifting the wait from over his neck.
"What I thought was amazing was that Governor Pataki checked the Red Book to see if the Republicans could win the district before helping," Paterson said to laughs, noting the incident was a "glimpse of an incredible political acumen."
"The governor told it almost exactly correctly," Pataki responded several minutes later.
"I had already known that his district went from Cheektowaga to Buffalo and there was no chance of us winning. I thought about it for a minute."
"So Governor Paterson can't see what's going on. He has no idea if I'm helping or not," Pataki said. "Governor, I've kept it a secret all this time, but I just was standing there. You lifted all the weight."
Everyone laughed and applauded. (Stachowski was not present.) Pataki thanked Paterson "for your leadership of this great state, and thank you for your friendship" and went on, after a brief speech, to heap praise on Paterson.
"We don't always see eye-to-eye on issues, and we certainly didn't when he was a Senate leader and I was the governor, but the state only has one governor at a time," Pataki said. "And these are very difficult and challenging times, and elections are elections, but for the next 15 months at least, Governor Paterson is the leader of this state, and the leader for all of us. And I think every one of us should try to help him as he and the legislature face the enormous challenges that this state and our country still face. So there will be a time when the political season heats up. But for now, I just urge all of us to do our best to help him lead this great state successfully."
Whether or not his praise for Paterson was sincere, there's a political reason he would to boost the current governor. Republicans want to keep Paterson just strong enough that he can lead the Democratic ticket in 2010, believing he will be a weaker opponent than Andrew Cuomo.
Pataki's praise also comes at a time when Democrats are loath to support Paterson and some—including political operatives working for Barack Obama—are open about wanting the governor to let someone else be the Democratic candidate for governor in 2010.
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