Friday, February 26, 2010

Spitzer - Paterson - Q? > Ravitch

Tabloids Pursue Governor,

They Say He Should Resign

But Paterson Likes the Job

By Henry J. Stern
February 26, 2010

We haven't commented on state government for a week, since events have been unfolding so rapidly. Hardly anybody supported Governor Paterson's candidacy for-reelection prior to the first Times expose on Feb. 16, which dealt largely with two friends of the governor, David Johnson, the former intern, driver and body man turned senior adviser, and Clemmie Harris, who retired from the State Police ten years ago and since worked on and off for the governor. Two days later (Feb. 18), The Times published a highly critical article about the governor's work schedule and relationships with other officials. In the nine days since the first Times story, his administration has all but collapsed, as reported today.

The governor's ill-fated, almost delusional candidacy for re-election is terminated, just five days after he launched it at Hofstra. Because of the revelations on the use of the State Police in a domestic violence incident in the Bronx and the possibility that there are more disclosures to come, the playing field has shifted. We do not know to what extent Attorney General Cuomo will pursue the investigation that Governor Paterson asked him Wednesday to initiate. Inappropriate behavior can be treated as criminal conduct. Like beauty, sin can be in the eye of the beholder.

The issue now becomes whether the beleaguered governor should or will resign. He is highly unlikely to resign voluntarily. Recall how long it took for him to abandon his doomed candidacy for renomination as the Democratic candidate for governor.

The Post and the News both have front-page editorials today urging Paterson to quit now. The banner headlines vary. The News saying TIME TO GO, and the Post TIME TO GO, DAVE. The Post headline channels a previous headline, in September 1990, DO SOMETHING, DAVE. That headline appealed to another Dave, Mayor Dinkins, asking for action against violent crime, which Mayor Dinkins took in collaboration with Council Speaker Peter Vallone, Sr. The year 1990 showed a record high in murders in New York City, 2245. The total for 2009 was 461, down 79% in 19 years and the lowest number of murders since comparable record keeping began in 1963, a year in which there were 548 homicides.

David Paterson was born in 1954, and is said to have been named for future Mayor David Dinkins, a close friend of Paterson's father, Basil A. Paterson, former New York State Secretary of State (for Governor Carey), longtime State Senator, and Deputy Mayor (for Mayor Koch). In New York, that is political royalty.

The younger Paterson spent twenty-two pacific years in the New York State Senate, the last four as minority leader, since the Democrats were in the minority from 1966 to 2008 (forty three years). They were swept into the majority by LBJ's landslide victory over Barry Goldwater in 1964. They were relegated to the minority in the next election after a single year in the majority. The Democrats could not agree on a Speaker or Majority Leader when they had power in 1965, and the dispute was settled when the Republicans united with a minority of Democrats to elect the Speaker of the Assembly and the Majority Leader of the Senate. Governor Nelson Rockefeller and Mayor Robert F. Wagner teamed up against the allies of Senator Robert F. Kennedy. That took place forty-five years ago, but when it comes to the New York State legislature, some things never seem to change.

You can link to the News editorial here. It begins, on page 1, in large type, "Today we urge David Paterson to step down. Paterson has given serious cause to doubt both his word and his judgment. His administration is in shambles. He has demeaned his high office. And the investigation he has asked Attorney Generall Andrew Cuomo to undertake will consume Paterson's attention at a time when New York has pressing need of strong, credible, focused leadership." The News editorial continues on two columns of page 3, under the headline, "For everyones sake, please go."

The Post editorial also begins on page 1. "It's time for David Paterson to close out his role in one of the strangest episodes in New York history and turn over the affairs of state to his own lieutenant governor, Richard Ravitch.

"We dont prescribe this lightly.
"But new developments make it painfully clear that the accidental governor lacks the credibility to effectively see New York through its current crises.
"And that he has no hope of gaining it."

There are two Post editorials on the subject on page 32, "Enough, Governor" and "Ravitch Is Ready." The Times also ran an editorial on pA26, titled QUESTIONS FOR GOV. PATERSON. You can read it here. The Times did not suggest that the governor resign.

At this time of turmoil, Governor Paterson should be given credit for his achievements. Perhaps his wisest move was choosing Richard Ravitch as lieutenant governor, an action many thought beyond his power until the Court of Appeals decided otherwise, 4-3.

Recall that it was Eliot Spitzer who chose David Paterson as his lieutenant governor. Only 16 months after their inaugural, Paterson became his successor. Unfortunately, both men got into trouble for misusing the State Police. One would think that after Troopergate bedeviled the Spitzer administration, his successor would not interfere with law-enforcement, certainly not on a personal basis. Unfortunately, Paterson crossed the line to protect an apparently invaluable aide, who happened to beat up women.

What Paterson did was wrong, but is hardly an impeachable offense. But neither was Spitzer's consensual sex with an adult woman an intrinsically impeachable offense. If marital fidelity were a requirement for holding public office, there would be considerably more turnover than there is today. Spitzer was forced to resign in March 2007 after being caught with a future Post columnist, because almost everyone disliked him for his arrogant and abusive behavior.

Paterson is not like that. His problems include over-reliance on others who have problems of their own, total inconsistency in words and deeds from day to day and hour to hour, and inability to deal with matters of state in a reasonable and consistent manner. He has also scapegoated the legislature, which deserves much but not all of his abuse. Assembly Speaker Silver is a giant among pygmies, but he cannot keep the Albany house of cards together on his own. He has other issues, but one cannot even reach them unless there is a functioning government, which for the last three years we have not had in New York State. Who would have believed that the Brennan Institute of Justice report in 2004 would be the harbinger of further decline?

For the good of the state and the Democratic party, the governor probably should resign. It is highly unlikely that he will voluntarily step down, barring further disclosures about his conduct. He has already rendered himself unemployable by the Obama administration. Meanwhile, every day he stays in office increases his pension, on which he will have to rely some day, probably sooner rather than later. If had been admitted to the Bar, he could be appointed a judge. If the state were a private corporation, he could receive a golden parachute. Perhaps some board or commission could be found in agencyland which would provide him with a safe berth.

Ten months remain in the Spitzer term. The state budget, by law, is supposed to be adopted by April 1, the start of the states new fiscal year. The greatest public service the governor could render at this time would be to leave these painful and almost insurmountable problems in the lap of his chosen successor, Richard Ravitch, who will never run for public office. It is better to make an honorable and gracious departure than to leave as a consequence of a widening investigation into improprieties, real or imagined.

StarQuest #650 02.26.2010 1303wds

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