Paterson and Murphy: Happy Together, For Now

GLENS FALLS—During Scott Murphy's successful bid for Congress, David Paterson limited his efforts on behalf of his fellow Democrat to phone calls behind the scenes and fund-raising efforts. He did not appear publicly with the candidate until election night, when polls closed with Murphy ahead narrowly.

After Assemblyman Jim Tedisco conceded the race on Friday, Paterson traveled to the shady park outside the Crandall Library to bask in the reflected glow of Murphy's election.

And why shouldn't he? The victory gives Paterson an ally in the Congressional delegation, who can, hypothetically, help the governor earn support and cement his reputation far from his New York City base. Of more immediate importance, it gives Paterson a success to point to–a rarity these days–not least because he was responsible for creating the vacancy Murphy will fill. (June O'Neill, Democratic State chair, introduced Paterson Saturday as someone "who made this day necessary.")

But if Murphy is good for the governor, it doesn't necessarily follow that the governor will continue to be good for Murphy.

Polls show fewer than one in five voters approve of the job Paterson is doing and, barring a turnaround, his presence at the top of the ticket could be deadly to Murphy if there's another close race in the 20th next year, when the governor and the congressman will both be up for full terms.

In addition to his general unpopularity, Paterson is considerably to the left of Murphy on gun control and same-sex marriage. In a district where there are still 70,000 more enrolled Republicans than Democrats–and in which Murphy was just elected by a razor-thin margin–this is not a small thing.

Without mentioning the governor specifically, Murphy said he hoped that the broad trends would be working in his favor.

"I'm hoping what we see in 2010 is the economy moving in the right direction, and I hope I'm part of making that happen and I think that'll be a great time to run for office if we're successful," Murphy told me after the rally. "Obviously, as you know, when you're running for office everything else that's going on impacts you. Things going on in Albany will impact us even if I'm not in Albany. We'll just take that as it comes."

He added: "It'll be a while before we worry about all of those nuances."

As if to illustrate the complications that now accompany even a benign show of friendship from Paterson, two state workers confronted him at Murphy's rally–Paterson spoke at length to one of them–about the governor's proposed layoffs. That news, as well as the details of a $131.8 billion budget, hit in the days just before the election, and the issue came up in candidate forums.

Republicans, for some reason, never tried to make Paterson Murphy's albatross. But Democrats were still aware of the potential vulnerability.

"It definitely hurt us in Saratoga," said Larry Bulman, chairman of the Democratic Party in that most populous of the ten counties in the district. The suburbs at the county's southern tip are filled with bureaucrats–like Kevin Connolly, who came to rally for Murphy and used the opportunity to complain to Paterson–that are none too pleased with the governor. (Public employees unions, like most all other unions endorsed Murphy.)

During the rally, O'Neill allowed she had mixed emotions about Paterson's appointment of Gillibrand, admitting there was "trepidation" over the election. After Murphy's victory, she offered praise.

"This is a great day for the governor because he knows that he's going to have another strong partner in our congressional delegation fighting to help him turn New York back around, fighting for reform and fighting to revitalize the state, except the real victors today are the people of the 20th congressional district," she said. After the rally, I asked her what effect Paterson might have on Murphy.

"I don't have a crystal ball, there's a long time between now and then, but the governor is working very hard and he has taken it on the chin for doing the right thing in terms of trying to turn the economy around," she replied. "Leadership isn't about always doing what's popular; you can't govern by polls. And sometimes I think that a lot's going to change between now and then."

When Murphy took the podium, he turned to the governor, who is several inches shorter, and clapped.

"Obviously, we wouldn't be here today without your leadership, and your vision to put Kirsten Gillibrand in the Senate and open up this seat, so thanks again," he said.

Paterson and Murphy: Happy Together, For Now