Paterson Stumps for Stringer, But Can’t Say Why Voters Should Pick Him

Former Gov. David Paterson campaigns with Scott Stringer in Harlem this morning.

Former Gov. David Paterson campaigns with Scott Stringer in Harlem this morning. (Photo: Jill Colvin)

Former Gov. David Paterson campaigned with Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer this morning outside a subway stop in Harlem, but the appearance quickly turned awkward as the former governor refused to criticize Mr. Spitzer’s opponent: his former boss

Mr. Paterson, who served under Eliot Spitzer as lieutenant governor and took over when he resigned, repeatedly refused to answer a simple question: why voters should choose the little-known Stringer over Mr. Spitzer, who is leading the polls in the comptroller’s race.

“I’m not going to answer the question of why they should choose Scott over Eliot. That’s your question. I didn’t ask that question and I’m not answering it,” said Mr. Paterson, who had endorsed Mr. Stringer long before Mr. Spitzer entered the race.

“When I endorsed Scott, Governor Spitzer wasn’t running,” he explained. “So he totally understands that there was no choice to be made between those two candidates. They’re both friends of mine.”

Still, the questions kept on coming.

Why was Mr. Stringer the better candidate, he was asked again? “Because I endorsed him,” Mr. Paterson quipped.

What about Mr. Paterson’s assertion that Mr. Spitzer could walk into the job tomorrow and “do a fantastic job”?

“Yeah he could,” he said. “People can make up their own minds.”

Mr. Stringer quickly broke in to salvaged the exchange, saying that Mr. Paterson had “made it very clear to me that he wants me to be comptroller. But let’s be honest, he has a relationship with my opponent … and i think it’s fair to say that his vote and his support goes to me based on my record.”

Paterson and Stringer campaigning today.

Mr. Paterson and Mr. Stringer campaigning today.

Mr. Paterson also refused to criticize Mr. Spitzer’s record as governor, which Mr. Stringer has repeated slammed as a “colossal failure.” Instead, Mr. Paterson argued that Mr. Spitzer was only in office for a year (he was forced resign in a prostitution scandal), and didn’t have time to leave a mark. “We never got a chance to really find that out. So it’s almost a moot question,” he said, pivoting to Mr. Stringer’s record in the state assembly and as Manhattan borough president.

Mr. Paterson’s appearance came as Mr. Stringer, far behind in the polls, is doing everything he can to try and close the gap, especially among black voters, whose support for Mr. Spitzer is at nearly 70 percent, accord to one recent poll.

Mr. Paterson, however, provided a novel explanation of why Mr. Spitzer has proven so popular with the demographic.

“I mean, Governor Spitzer appointed me when he was running. He asked me to run with him with as lieutenant governor. It led to me becoming the first  black governor of the state,” he explained. “If I wasn’t governor, there’d have been no repeal of the Rockefeller drugs laws. If I wasn’t governor, there wouldn’t have been no minority and women business enterprises. So you can see why people would feel that way.”

The remarks came during a campaign stop outside the busy subway station at 135th Street and Lenox Avenue, where the pair greeted voters on their way to work.

“Scott Stringer for Comptroller. I need your help,” repeated the candidate. “Scott Stringer. I’m here with Governor Paterson … How are you? Don’t forget me,” he said again and again.

While most of the hurried commuters rushed past Mr. Stringer, several grew visibly excited when they they were introduced to the former governor, who proudly told voters, “This is my candidate for comptroller.”

“You win this race like you’re supposed to,” one woman told Mr. Stringer as she rushed into the station. “Good luck,” others said.

Still, there seemed to be confusion about exactly who Mr. Stringer is running against. One voter, Deric Mickens, 28, approached Mr. Stringer and asked him to respond to “Anthony Weiner’s” criticism that he has no track record. Mr. Weiner, the election’s original comeback candidate, is running for mayor.

“Well, first of all, that’s the problem of this two-ring circus. I’m not running against Weiner. I’m running against the other one: Spitzer,” Mr. Stringer responded, agreeing that, “It gets confusing sometimes.”

Mr. Stringer then ran through a list of his accomplishments in various government offices, adding, “I have comported myself with integrity in a way that suggests I would be a good fiduciary of our pension system.”

Mr. Mickens, a model-actor, told Politicker he was impressed with Mr. Stringer’s answer, but advised Mr. Stringer to spend more time talking about his own record and less time on the attack.

“The thing is you need to do that more often,” he said, “because people have the same questions I do.”

NAACP President Hazel Dukes also stopped by–in gym clothes no less–to praise Mr. Stringer as a “man of integrity” who “has proven himself as one who can control the City of New York.” As for Mr. Spitzer? “I think he should go back and go on a yacht somewhere.”