It goes without saying that Charles O’Byrne, secretary to Governor David Paterson, should have filed his tax returns from 2001 to 2005. That was an egregious mistake, one brought on by personal difficulties, including clinical depression, according to Mr. O’Byrne.
Mr. O’Byrne said he already has paid about $200,000 in back taxes and penalties to make amends. His story rings true; Mr. O’Byrne’s bitter resignation from the Jesuits and his subsequent attempts to find a new life outside the priesthood are a matter of public record. It seems clear that Mr. O’Bryne went through a difficult few years before landing a job with Mr. Paterson while he still was a state senator.
While there is no excusing Mr. O’Byrne’s negligence, he should not feel compelled to resign. He made a mistake—a mistake, it should be noted, that for the most part took place before he went to work for Mr. Paterson. He should have cleaned up the mess a little sooner than he did. But he did pay up, and did fork over fines for late payment.
Mr. O’Byrne is, by all accounts, a shrewd operative whose life experience makes up for his relative newness to state politics. He joined Mr. Paterson after serving on Howard Dean’s presidential campaign in 2004. He was a Jesuit priest from 1996 to 2002, and he has a degree from Columbia Law School. He is smart and resourceful, qualities that recommended him to Mr. Paterson and that still recommend him to the governor’s service.
As secretary to the governor, Mr. O’Byrne is the most powerful adviser to the most powerful statewide official in New York. If Mr. O’Byrne left abruptly, the governor would be deprived of his most trusted aide at one of the most perilous times in recent state history.
Michael Bloomberg has made a persuasive case in favor of changing term limits to allow him and other city officials to serve an extra term as the city tries to cope with the financial meltdown on Wall Street. That same need for stability exists in Albany. The governor already has rubbed some legislators the wrong way with his insistence that the times require extraordinary sacrifices—in other words, legislators can’t expect to decorate the budget with their favorite causes over the next few years.
Mr. Paterson will need not just an adviser, but an enforcer, and Mr. O’Byrne seems well suited to the task. He has no constituency except for Mr. Paterson, which means he is not invested in the old way of doing things in Albany. He has no alliances to protect, no friends to comfort, no enemies to bring down. He surely has the governor’s best interests at heart, but he also seems detached enough from politics as usual to help make the Paterson administration’s case for unprecedented budget-cutting over the next few months.
Mr. Paterson has done well to keep reminding New Yorkers of the dire prospects for this year’s budget and next year’s. Mr. O’Byrne can only help Mr. Paterson as he continues to make his case.
The governor could use his right-hand man at times like these. He ought to keep him.