Gov. David Paterson (D)
Elected: Assumed office March 2008, term expires 2010, 1st term.
Born: May 20, 1954, Harlem .
Education: Columbia U., B.A., 1977, Hofstra U., J.D., 1982.
Family: Married (Michelle); 2 children.
Elected office: NY St. Sen., 1985-2007, NY lt. gov, 2007-08.
Democrat David Paterson is the governor of New York and the first African-American to hold the office. Elected lieutenant governor in 2006, he unexpectedly ascended to the governorship on March 14, 2008, after Eliot Spitzer resigned in a prostitution scandal. Paterson was born in Brooklyn and grew up in Harlem in a powerful political family. His father, Basil Paterson, thrived in Harlem’s Democratic machine as a longtime state senator and later as New York’s secretary of state and the deputy mayor of New York City. The elder Paterson was for years one of Harlem’s major political leaders, part of the “Gang of Four,” which included U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel, Manhattan Borough President Percy Sutton and Mayor David Dinkins. The younger Paterson faced an unexpected challenge in childhood. As an infant, he contracted an ear infection that spread to his optic nerve and left him legally blind. His parents enrolled him in school on Long Island, where he could receive special education, and from there he went to Columbia and Hofstra University Law School.
|Eliot Spitzer (D-Ind-WF)||3,086,709||(70%)|
|John Faso (R-C)||1,274,335||(29%)|
|Eliot Spitzer (D)||624,684||(82%)|
|Tom Suozzi (D)||138,263||(18%)|
Paterson followed his father into New York politics. In 1985, he worked on Dinkins’s successful campaign for Manhattan borough president. The same year, he ran for the state Senate seat once held by his father and won. In the Legislature, he compiled a liberal voting record and earned a reputation as an approachable, good-humored dealmaker. In 1993, he ran for public advocate (the position formerly known as City Council president) and lost the Democratic primary to Mark Green. In 1995, he was elected deputy party leader in the Senate, where Democrats were in the minority. After the 2002 election, Paterson challenged and beat Minority Leader Martin Connor. The Senate for many years had been run more or less singlehandedly by the Republican Senate president. Paterson didn’t challenge that arrangement, instead working amicably with GOP Senate President Joseph Bruno. He imposed new ethical guidelines on Democratic members, admonishing them not to direct state money toward sources with which they shared family or other ties. However, his success in getting financial help for North General Hospital, for which his wife worked as a registered lobbyist, seemed to run afoul of his own guidelines. He also worked to elect more Democrats, with considerable success: They gained one seat in 2004 and two seats in 2006, leaving them just two shy of a majority, which they achieved in 2008.
In 2006, the city’s African-American leaders urged Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, who easily won the Democratic governor nomination, to choose a black running mate and recommended Leecia Eve, daughter of longtime Buffalo Assemblyman Arthur Eve. But the independent-minded Spitzer preferred Paterson. Loath to give up a chance at real power as Senate president if Democrats gained just two seats in 2008, Paterson initially resisted but ultimately agreed. The prospect also loomed of his being appointed to replace Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Senate should she be elected president. Then in March 2008, it was reported that Spitzer had patronized a prostitute at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C., and as a result had been caught in a Federal Bureau of Investigation probe of a prostitution ring. After three days of drama, Spitzer announced that he would resign. He delayed the effective date to give Paterson time to prepare. New Yorkers were suddenly introduced to a governor they knew little about. In his initial press conference, Paterson, determined to get scandal stories behind him, told them perhaps more than they wanted to know about his and his wife’s extramarital affairs and his past drug use. He had warm words for Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate President Bruno, who would be intimately involved in negotiating the state budget and other major issues.
In Paterson’s early days as governor, the contrast with Spitzer’s pugnacious style was vivid. The state faced a $4.6 billion shortfall, and an agreement with the legislative leaders was reached in time to meet deadlines. He startled some by calling for the state to recognize same-sex marriages entered into in other states, and he signed bills providing binding arbitration for Suffolk County police. In July 2008, with a looming shortfall of $5 billion, he called the Legislature back into session, and the two sides agreed to cut $1 billion over 18 months, although Silver and Senate President Dean Skelos (who had replaced Bruno after his indictment) opposed cuts in school funding. All the while, Paterson continued to be active politically. His support of Clinton in her presidential-primary fight with black Democrat Barack Obama of Illinois provoked some criticism by African-American politicians. Paterson’s fundraising for Democratic state Senate candidates paid off when Democrats gained two seats and a Senate majority in November 2008 for the first time since 1965. But he suffered a setback when his close aide, Charles O’Byrne, resigned in October 2008 after it was revealed that he had failed to pay federal and state income taxes for five years.
New York’s unusual system of party discipline and leadership control of both houses of the Legislature has yielded upward pressure on state spending, which, in the financial crisis of 2008, led to enormous fiscal challenges. The Democratic Assembly tended to favor high spending for New York City and its employees and Medicaid programs that have been a burden on upstate New York. The Republican state Senate tended to favor high spending on suburban school aid (to hold down high property taxes) and on state employees, many of whom are located in upstate communities. Democrats briefly gained control of the Senate after the 2008 elections, complicating the status quo, but then in June 2009, two disgruntled Democrats kicked off a power struggle when they announced they were defecting from their party and joining Republicans on organizational issues affecting party control of the chamber. That put Republicans back in command, at least for a few weeks, and Paterson was viewed in some quarters as out-of-the-loop and powerless to influence the outcome. The renegades ultimately returned to the fold and Democrats were back in control.
In November 2008, Paterson sought $5.2 billion in spending cuts over 16 months, mostly in health care and education. The state’s total budget was $121 billion. In his State of the State speech to the Legislature in January 2009, Paterson warned of yet more belt-tightening to come, as protesters outside, including members of state employees’ unions, blasted his budget cuts. “Hey hey, ho ho, Paterson’s budget has got to go,” they shouted. Inside the Capitol, Paterson said soberly: “The state of the state is perilous. Our economy is damaged … Our confidence is shaken.” On other issues, he announced two initiatives, one to battle childhood obesity, which he called an “epidemic,” and another on energy conservation. He called for a ban on trans fats in restaurants and for posting calorie counts in fast-food outlets. And he announced a plan for the state to meet 45% of its energy needs through renewable sources or conservation within 15 years.
Also in Paterson’s early months as governor, he had the opportunity, and the burden, of appointing a U.S. senator who might serve for a long time. (Since direct election of senators came into being, no Democratic senator from New York has been defeated for re-election.) Paterson evidently considered appointing Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to the seat, which came open after President-elect Obama announced that he would nominate Clinton as secretary of State. That move would have eliminated Cuomo as a possible primary opponent in 2010, when Paterson had to stand for election. But then on December 3, Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of the iconic former president, indicated she was interested in the seat, and Paterson gave many indications that he would appoint her. But Kennedy performed weakly in upstate visits and in an interview with the New York Times. Republican U.S. Rep. Peter King of Long Island let it be known that he would oppose her in 2010, and other Democrats began threatening to run in the primary. By the end of December, Paterson complained that Kennedy’s promoters had made it appear that he had made a choice and were trying to box him in. Then on January 21, Kennedy announced that she was withdrawing her name “for personal reasons.” The next day, Paterson announced that he was appointing U.S. Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand of the 20th District to the Senate seat.
In 2008, Paterson started raising money for a 2010 campaign, yet by March 2009, his job ratings were the lowest in state history. Suburbanites were angry about cuts in school funding, New York City residents were angry about cuts in city aid, and leaders of public employee unions were angry about proposed layoffs and revisions in fringe benefits. The muddy process for appointing a senator did not help. Polls showed Cuomo beating Paterson by wide margins in a theoretical Democratic primary and Republican Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor, leading Paterson in a general election, though running behind Cuomo.