Paterson Spins His Wheels, Nobody Minds Yet

Last month, Governor David Paterson was fielding questions from reporters on a new budget-management program when Fred Dicker spoke up.

Last month, Governor David Paterson was fielding questions from reporters on a new budget-management program when Fred Dicker spoke up.

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“I’m having a little bit of trouble figuring out the significance of the announcement today,” said Mr. Dicker, the famously ornery state editor for the New York Post. “What’s the big deal about it?”

At least in Mr. Paterson’s first three months on the job, the Spitzer-esque announcements of lofty statewide initiatives and controversial legislation have generally ceased. With less than two weeks left before the end of the current legislative session, no clear agenda has emerged, and no serious political capital has been spent.

The funny thing is that this approach, so far, seems to be working out just fine for Mr. Paterson.

Precisely because he came to office only recently, and without having had to make any major promises to get there, the bar for Mr. Paterson in Albany and among voters has been set low. It’s as if anything he gets done before lawmakers adjourn for the summer is a giant bonus.

“I’m pretty confident that Governor Paterson does not want to end the session without some additional things he can point to, but it’s certainly fair to say that neither the public nor the Legislature nor the political pundit class is expecting miracles,” said Dan Cantor, executive director of the Working Families Party, who is active in pushing legislation such as paid family leave. He added, “I think everybody’s still giving him the benefit of the doubt.”

That includes the public, it seems: A Siena Research Institute poll in May found Mr. Paterson enjoyed an approval-disapproval rating of 48-17, as opposed to the 41-46 rating held by Mr. Spitzer before his collapse, according to a Siena poll taken in February.

In an interview on Tuesday, Mr. Paterson suggested that he deserved a bit of slack for now—that the constrained time frame, courtesy of his whiplash-inducing rise to power in the wake of Eliot Spitzer’s prostitute scandal, has made it a challenge to record any major legislative achievements before the end of session.

“When other governors stake out what they want to do by the end of session, they stake it out the November before,” he told The Observer. “I’m submitting bills three months later, in mid-April as opposed to mid-January.”

Even so, he laid out a number of key issues on which he wants to see legislation, the first of which dealing with home foreclosures.

“There are some issues that I think are paramount,” he said. “The subprime mortgage problems in this state, as they are all over the country, are mammoth, and I think we need to leave here having addressed it.”

Also under discussion, according to Mr. Paterson: brownfield reform, an environmental cleanup issue on the table for years; patients’ rights issues; Industrial Development Authority reform; and paid work leave, among others.

Of course, discussions hardly guarantee agreements on legislation, and, as usual in Albany, it probably won’t be until the final days of session before many of the bills pass or fail. At that point, Mr. Paterson’s abilities to broker compromise will be up for the judging.

Virtually every legislator interviewed for this article suggested that it was too soon to come to any conclusion about the ability of the governor and Legislature to get things done.

“I don’t think that’s so unusual, I really don’t,” Assemblyman Mark Weprin said of the lack of major legislation passed so far. “I don’t think that us not actually having come through with a lot of agreements by this time of year is not so unusual. It’s part of the dance of Albany.”

But the minimal level of activity thus far coming from Albany has irked editorial boards and good-government groups, which have contended that Mr. Paterson is not following through on the reform agenda promised during his time as Mr. Spitzer’s running mate.

As The New York Times reported in a story on June 9, Mr. Paterson has sent 18 bills to the Legislature; five of them have been passed so far, and seven of them were never introduced.

“The legislative session seems to be coming to an abysmal end with little progress on any significant issues, including political reform,” said Dick Dadey, executive director of the Citizens Union.

Paterson Spins His Wheels, Nobody Minds Yet