Times Says Paterson Is
Remote and Uninvolved
Except for Two Buddies
By Henry J. Stern
February 19, 2010
We live in interesting times, at least as far as state government is concerned.
This morning's New York Times contains a devastating article about Governor Paterson. The first salvo in what appears to be a series was published Wednesday, on page A1 above the fold, a space usually occupied by important news reports. The headline, PATERSON AIDE'S QUICK RISE DRAWS SCRUTINY, accurately described the story. The 2174-word article, however, delivered much less than had been anticipated for the past two weeks, when rumors of sexual misconduct swirled around the Capitol, prompting denials and complaints. The Times denied responsibility for stories it did not publish and rumors it did not start.
The Times examined the background of David W. Johnson, a 6 foot 7 inch former driver of the governor, who became his protector, confidante and scheduler, and is now a senior state official conducting substantive business and handling press conferences. Johnson was arrested for undisclosed reasons and treated as a youthful offender in 1989, when he was 16 years old. Two years later he sold crack cocaine to an undercover officer, pleaded guilty to a lesser charge, and served five years probation. In recent years, there have been a number of incidents in which he was accused of violence towards women he had dated. He denies everything, and the governor says he will not hold Johnson's youthful indiscretions against him.
The gravamen of the article is that a former drug dealer and a recent abuser of women has risen to the highest level of state government. That is probably true to some extent, but it does not necessarily reflect on Governor Paterson's conduct of state business. It does suggest a somewhat unwholesome atmosphere in the Executive Chamber, since it is less than likely that a person with such a background would treat others with the respect they believe they deserve. Although highly discordant, the story is background music, and certainly does not indicate actionable misconduct by anyone. There was no smoking gun. The article, uncomplimentary as it was, disappointed those waiting for a stake to be driven into the governor's heart.
Today's 2627-word article, again on A1 above the fold, is much more damaging to Mr. Paterson's reputation as New York State's chief executive. It was reported by Danny Hakim, Serge F. Kovaleski and Nicholas Confessore, and written by Mr. Hakim. The three authors comprise a balanced ticket, or part of a scene from a World War II movie. The headline, AS CAMPAIGN NEARS, PATERSON IS SEEN AS REMOTE, is somewhat understated. We recommend that you read the expose; you can link to it here. We quote some key paragraphs:
"On the eve of his election kickoffinterviews with dozens of current and former aides, legislators and friends reveal significant criticism about Mr. Paterson's management of the state and of his election effort.
"Those interviewed describe the governor as remote from the most seasoned people around him and increasingly reliant on people whom he feels comfortable with but who lack deep experience in government, including his former driver, David W. Johnson, and his former Albany roommate, Clemmie J. Harris, Jr., who retired from the State Police on disability a decade ago and has been appointed special advisor to the governor.
"Some lawmakers say that despite the state's crippling crisis, Mr. Paterson has seldom engaged with them, beyond denouncing them. And several former state commissioners say he has virtually no involvement with those he has running major agencies, only rarely participating in policy meetings."
The Times article leads with an incident in which the governor could not be reached by his key staff. It suggests, although it does not say directly, that Mr. Paterson is continuing his involvement with women. It specifically alleges that he appointed an old girlfriend to an important state office, and implies that she is not qualified to hold it. To the governor's credit, he appears to treat his former lady friends substantially better than Mr. Johnson does, although neither is a role model in this regard.
We quote again from the Times' account. This part appears on the jump, pA20:
"Mr. Paterson, who is legally blind, has always relied on trusted aides, in part because his disability forces him to turn to others for assistance with tasks like briefing himself on policy issues (he does not read Braille) and navigating crowded rooms.
"But he has also become more isolated over the past year as he made missteps and felt attacked. He blamed outside strategists, who departed soon afterward, for their blunders over the selection of a replacement for Hillary Rodham Clinton as senator, for example, and he seems most comfortable with those whose loyalty he does not question.
"His approach, however, has meant that some senior policy advisers feel shunned, and staff members at times are puzzled about how decisions are being made. While office politics and jealousies pay a role in any administration, the rise of a few prominent people with longtime ties to Mr. Paterson has been especially divisive."
Following the rule that a picture is worth a thousand words, two large photographs appear on pA20. At the top of the page, you see the governor, with Clemmie Harris standing at his left and his wife, Michelle Paige Paterson, just behind him. The photo was taken just before he was sworn in as governor on March 17, 2008, almost two years ago. At the bottom of the page is a picture taken in July 2009 of Mr. Paterson at a night club, standing between Rhonda Clark and Gabrielle Turner. According to the Times, "While senior policy advisers to the governor have tried to adjust to Mr. Harris increasing prominence, employees in the state's Washington office found it difficult to do the same thing after Mr. Paterson appointed an old girlfriend of his, Gabrielle Turner, to a key post there."
The last eight paragraphs of the Times story deal with the Turner matter; they particularly deserve your scrutiny. The Times does not allege a current relationship between Mr. Paterson and Ms. Turner, who is married to Elijah Turner III. It does however, through its presentation of the facts and quotations of others, make clear the conclusion that Ms. Turner is not qualified for the position she holds. The Times lists the extensive experience of the prior director, Veronica Sullivan, which contrasts sharply with Ms. Turner's more limited background. The Times' last paragraph is short but pregnant with meaning: "Ms. Turner continues to work in the office."
The Times did not mention the Aqueduct racino situation. That will be elaborated upon in news stories yet to appear. They will not be helpful to the governor.
The conclusion a reasonable person would draw from reading the article is that, if the story is essentially true, Mr. Paterson is not qualified to serve as governor. His value to the Obama administration diminishes as new allegations, true or not, are reported. He is already beyond the pale as far as Senate confirmation is concerned, unless the Republicans go along out of fear of being considered racist. The same calculus applies to the Democratic state convention scheduled for May. A candidate must receive 25 per cent of the vote to get on the September primary ballot without the tiresome and costly task of collecting a total of 15.000 valid signatures, which must come from more than half of the state's 29 congressional districts.
At this point, Paterson is not strong enough to win, on his own, the 25 per cent he would need to get on the ballot along with Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. We shall see whether the county bosses give him the necessary votes to avoid accusations of racism if Paterson is still in the race at that time. He has yet to be endorsed by county chairmen, while Andrew Cuomo is lining them up in advance of announcing his candidacy. People in politics have a particular desire to be on the winning side in tribal conflicts, because that will benefit their followers, who may well be seeking jobs, contracts, power or influence with the new state administration.
Meanwhile, Cuomo is declining to take a position on almost every issue. He is wise to do so, why should he tip his hand and make enemies now? Anything he says today is likely to limit his freedom if and when he is elected. Is his silence fair? We believe so. Well, Paterson has the power of incumbency, and Cuomo has the gift of non-incumbency, which in 2010, a year of anger, appears to be particularly desirable.
The consequences to Paterson of by the Times article are impossible to measure at this time. One, it absolves the newspaper of the accusation that it had nothing to say. Two, we do not know whether if there will be any further articles and if so what they will reveal. Ex-staffers and ex-girlfriends are logical sources. Three, Patersons weakness may generate trial balloons by other potential candidates. In todays political climate, there is room for new faces.
Is there a Schwarzenegger or Bloomberg, an avatar of fame and fortune, somewhere in New York State? Residency here is required for state officials, United States Senators can come from anywhere (Bobby Kennedy -- 1964, Hillary Clinton -- 2000, Harold Ford ? -- 2010). Independents have parts of July and August to circulate nominating petitions, a daunting but not impossible task for anyone with several hundred thousand dollars to spend (estimate by a top election lawyer).
Enjoy the weekend.
StarQuest #649 02.19.2010 1580wds