Governor David Paterson made what one of his aides said was his first official visit to Staten Island as governor yesterday evening, campaigning with Michael McMahon, the Democratic City Councilman running for congress in the 13th congressional district.
The mostly white, blue-collar conservative-leaning borough that’s been sending a Republican to congress for the last three decades isn’t exactly Mr. Paterson’s base. But since replacing Eliot Spitzer in March, Paterson, has been speaking in dramatic terms about the need to cut state spending, keep taxes down and, as of yesterday, to stop sending more of New York’s tax dollars to Washington than the state gets back.
In short, he’s been the sort of governor Staten Island commuters coming off the ferry would stop in their tracks to meet.
Again and again, people said, “Oh my God, it’s the governor.” Cell phone cameras came out, hands waved, and at one point a crowd of at least 50 people surrounded Paterson as he spun in every direction shaking hands, smiling for photos, and imploring people to vote for Mike McMahon next week.
McMahon was busy reminding voters that his wife, Judy, is running for judge, so they’ll have to vote for “two McMahons.”
“I’m not coming back to Staten Island until I hear he’s elected,” Paterson joked at one point. “But I’ll come on Election Day.”
“We’d love to have you,” said McMahon.
(That’s a stark contrast to how Patersons’ predecessor was viewed on Staten Island around last Election Day, after he had introduced a controversial plan to allow undocumented residents to obtain New York State driver’s licenses. At the time, local Democratic officials were openly opposing Spitzer’s plan and even hoping he wouldn’t show up in their district.)
Eric Patterson, who works maintenance at a local grocery store, said he’s voting for McMahon “automatically. Known him for years.” Patterson, a Democrat, said he was glad to see the governor on Staten Island, and jumped at the chance to have his photo taken with both men.
Afterward, he said he’d vote for McMahon but planned to switch parties and pull the lever for Republican John McCain for president.
“I’d like to see a Vietnam vet in office. At least he’d make some kind of change. Obama is a little bit too young,” he said.
David Seeley, a retired education professor from the College of Staten Island, hovered nearby, not risking his slight frame to the crowd surrounding Paterson and McMahon. “I like them both,” he said, before finally moving in for his own picture and hand shake.
At the county Democratic Party’s annual dinner later that evening, Paterson reiterated the tough-guy talking points he delivered in Washington that morning for more federal aid for local states.
“We are not in Washington asking for a hand-out like AIG, like Bear Sterns, or like other firms that had difficulties, Merrill Lynch. We are not asking for a handout. We’re asking for a hand back!”
He went on to say the state would tighten its belt and make cuts no matter what. “I’m here to tell you, I don’t care what special interests there are. I don’t care how much they’ve attempted to thwart what has to be done. The cuts that we make will be made fairly, they will be made all over, but they will be made proportional to representation.”
When Paterson finished, the aisle was cleared of reporters, but immediately filled with men in suits and women with evening dresses and high heels, clamoring, like a bunch of ferry commuters, for a photo of Paterson.