The Last of the Paterson Donors

91021991 The Last of the Paterson DonorsHowever grim things get for Governor David Paterson, people continue to give him money.

Some of Mr. Paterson’s remaining donors gamely profess to believe that he could turn the state—and his political fortunes—around, although they also tend to praise Mr. Paterson’s “attempts” to do things, rather than citing actual victories, and to defend the governor by noting the trying circumstances under which he assumed office.

Some of these donors have business before the state. Some have taken to contributing to both the governor and his rival, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo (Mr. Paterson’s campaign has $2,915,556.84 currently on hand; Mr. Cuomo’s has $16,115,565.94), and some say that even though they have contributed recently, they now plan to stop funding Mr. Paterson altogether.

All say that Mr. Paterson is a nice man, tabloid headlines notwithstanding.

His donors in the past six months include some prominent industry leaders, like Victor Kovner, a corporate lawyer and former corporation counsel of New York City; Bill Rudin, the civic-minded real estate billionaire; and Howard Rubenstein, public relations guru and adviser to the entire New York establishment. The list also includes some less-public names.

“My impression of him is that he’s just a very good person and has things right in his mind,” said Ronald Katz, a Los Angeles philanthropist and inventor. Mr. Katz has virtually no connection to New York State, but donated $25,000 to Mr. Paterson after a dinner with the governor. “People like that are hard to find,” he said.

“I think Governor David Paterson has done a very good job as governor,” said Paul Watterson, an attorney in Manhattan who donated $5,000 to the governor’s campaign in November. “And I think since we have a very good Democratic governor, there’s no reason to support an alternate Democratic candidate.”

Mr. Watterson, fully aware of Mr. Paterson’s reduced political circumstances—most recently being forced, somewhat unjustly, to respond to a negative newspaper story that hadn’t been published—remains in Mr. Paterson’s corner.

“I continue to support him. I’m going to continue giving him money,” he said.

“I’m supporting the governor right now,” said Thomas C. Wilmot, a real estate developer who has made two contributions since July totaling $20,000. “I haven’t considered anything else.”

Mr. Wilmot said he first met Mr. Paterson about six years ago at a fund-raiser. Though he does not remember whom the event was for (“it could have been for Clinton, it could have been for God-knows-who”), he did not forget Mr. Paterson.

He “has an amazing sense of humor. It was a very pleasant experience. I really enjoyed it.” Mr. Wilmot has donated a mere $5,000 to Mr. Cuomo (who has not officially announced he’s running for governor).

But it’s getting hard for at least one loyal donor to keep the faith.

“I’ve worked with David for a long time; he’s a good friend,” said Dennis Mehiel, a prominent businessman upstate and onetime Democratic lieutenant governor candidate. “I like him and I respect him. That’s a declarative statement. I have contributed to his campaign in the past, but I don’t plan on contributing any more. I don’t believe that David can win election in his own right, and beyond that, I do not plan to support him for election.”

Mr. Mehiel donated $10,000 to Mr. Paterson in July, but he said he won’t give again.

The reason wasn’t any particular policy or agenda item that Mr. Paterson has undertaken. It was, as Mr. Mehiel put it, the governor’s inability to get anything done.

“I don’t think there was a last straw,” Mr. Mehiel said. “I think David Paterson is fundamentally not suited for the office, and the execution of his responsibilities are reflective of that. I don’t think he’s well suited for the office. I don’t think he wanted the office. I don’t think he fits in.

“We need extremely strong leadership, and we’re not getting it,” said Mr. Mehiel. “So, it’s all about what New York State needs to do to get its act together. [That’s] what drives this, rather than anything to do with David, other than the fact that David is not cut out for the job.”

apaybarah@observer.com