Admittedly, it’s hard to know exactly what to make of David Paterson’s unorthodox debut as governor. But one detail to keep in mind—as difficult as that is at the moment for anyone who’s not a direct participant in the budget process in Albany—is that he’s still in charge.
>> David Paterson and the Art of the Leak By Choire Sicha
An attempt to preempt a wave of press speculation about his personal life by granting an interview to the Daily News on March 17—the day he was sworn in—put the issue of his extramarital activities in play without putting it to rest, leaving out the name and professional position of the woman he had been sleeping with.
At a press conference the next day, with blood already in the water, Mr. Paterson went further, admitting to more than one affair, and confessing that at least one of the women was on the state payroll. It was a remarkable disclosure, and, in effect, an unvarnished plea for clemency.
“It’s very hard for me to see how a person should just be thrown out in public because all they’re guilty of is liking someone else and not realizing one day they would become governor,” he said.
From here, the scenario goes like this: The press, free now to address in print what they’ve been talking about in private for a while already, plumbs the depths of Mr. Paterson’s relationships in search of overlap with his role as a public official and his access to campaign funds and public money.
And here’s the likely ending: Mr. Paterson survives. The thing he has going for him, above all, is that no matter what the press turns up, none of the big players in Albany—other than perhaps Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, who ran for governor in 2002 and would no doubt love to position himself as a Democratic savior for 2010—has an interest in seeing Mr. Paterson fail.
For the Democrats, an early exit for David Paterson would mean Governor Joe Bruno. For Mr. Bruno—the Republican majority leader of the State Senate who is currently under federal investigation—it would mean a level of scrutiny that he, even more than Mr. Paterson, is ill-prepared to endure. And for the public, it would mean yet another scandal after an exhausting (and deeply unappealing) week of stories about Eliot Spitzer and prostitutes.
In contrast with the way that Republican officials bayed for the blood of Mr. Spitzer when his prostitution scandal broke, for example, both Democrats and Republicans reacted quietly to Mr. Paterson’s revelations. “Leader Tedisco is focused on the budget which is due April 1st,” said the Assembly’s minority leader, James Tedisco, through a spokesman. “Making state government work for the people is his top priority.”
And besides, just about every elected official, interest group and lobbyist in Albany seemed far too occupied adjusting to Day One, Part Two, to do anything but pursue their business as usual.
Asked shortly after Mr. Paterson’s fuller-disclosure press conference what would happen next, Assemblyman Keith Wright of Harlem simply said, “We go into our conference committees to get a budget done in 10 days. It’s actually nine business days. I think that’s what we go in and do.”
State Senator Bill Perkins, who won the seat that opened up when Mr. Paterson left to become Mr. Spitzer’s lieutenant governor, said, “Unless a bomb drops on this place, I don’t see an excuse for us taking our eyes off the prize, and I don’t see a bomb dropping.”
The new, post-Spitzer order was apparent just minutes of Mr. Paterson being sworn in on March 17, as he and a small cadre of guests—including Hillary Clinton—mingled by an Albany-standard buffet of cheese cubes, crackers and antipasto at a private reception on the second floor of the Capitol.
Elsewhere on the second floor, Bill Lynch—the Harlem-based consultant and former deputy mayor who has already staked out turf as a gubernatorial adviser to Mr. Paterson—was greeting his own well-wishers.
“We’re not worthy—we’re not worthy,” said one woman, who worked at Rubenstein Communications, when she saw Mr. Lynch, leaning against the wall, wearing a black suit jacket, white shirt and long red tie. Assemblyman Dov Hikind of Brooklyn passed by, stopped, shook hands and wondered aloud whose turn it was to pick up the tab on their long-overdue next lunch. For most of a half-hour of absorbing such pleasantries, Mr. Lynch just smiled.
“As far as I’m concerned, it’s been a wonderful outpouring of support for him, and people want to be helpful,” Mr. Lynch told The Observer that day. He said the new administration had been hearing from “all kinds of people who would like to be helpful to him, who have ideas about the state.”
Mr. Paterson had tried to make it clear in his inaugural address moments earlier that although his style would be markedly different from his combative predecessor’s, he, too, had an idea-filled agenda for the state.
“We are going to have to help single mothers who have two jobs,” he said. “We are going to have to give children better schools and families who don’t have health care some redress.”
“Let us seize that poignant moment,” he said moments later. “Let us, right here and now, let us grab the unusual opportunities that circumstance has handed us today, and put personal politics, party advantage and power struggles aside in favor of service, in the interests of the people.”
For Mr. Paterson, who had mere hours before the Daily News published the sex story on its Web site, the fresh start was a chance to capitalize on the political chance of a lifetime. For everyone else, it was a second chance to gain access to public money and resuscitate projects that Mr. Spitzer had squashed, sidelined or simply did not bring to fruition.
“Everybody is knocking on his door,” said City Councilman Charles Barron, walking across the second floor of the Capitol after Mr. Paterson’s swearing-in. “People with conservative issues are knocking on his door. People with progressive issues are knocking on his door. People who want to make the rich richer are knocking on his door.”