From Spitzer to Paterson; A Tale of Two Governors and a State That is Screwed

Bookmark and Share  May we have a moment of silence please.

The announcement that Governor David Paterson of New York will close shop on his week old effort to be elected to his first full term as the state’s chief executive warrants a certain degree of reflection.

It is the final note to an Administration that has brought nothing but shame, despair, economic ruin and an unprecedented level of shattered confidence in government in the minds of New Yorkers from Brooklyn to Buffalo.

It started almost four years ago when three term Republican Governor George Pataki took a pass on running for a fourth term and retired. An ill prepared Republican Party had no one in the wings to step in and convincingly argue the merits of continued Republican stewardship of the Empire State. So they went with Dan Faso . After serving for a time as the New York State Assembly Minority Leader, Faso spent a few years becoming known as a perennial candidate for state wide office. His perennial status was earned because of his repeated attempts for statewide office that were followed by his repeated failure to win. But since Rudy Giuliani decided against a run, Republicans had no one to turn to accept Faso.

Democrats however had the shinning star of the Democrat party. State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. Spitzer spent the previous 4 years going after Wall Street and making a name for himself as a tough, no-nonsense, law and order guy who was looking out for the little guy. A better image could not have been crafted by the greatest of political consultants. So before any nominees were officially chosen, Spitzer’s elevation to Governor was a foregone conclusion. So sure was his victory that Spitzer decided he didn’t need a big name achiever to back him up as Lieutenant. Governor. So he took a different route, one that would allow him to pick a relatively obscure State Senator. He was black, he was blind and he had no real enemies. It was a perfect situation. The handicapped African-American balanced the ticket ethnically and his personal story added a compassionate twist to the campaign.

Unfortunately things are not always what they seem though.

Spitzer was not the tough law and order guy people thought he was and Patterson, well with him, in time people would come to find out why he was a relatively obscure state senator.

About a year into Spitzer’s term, suspicious bank transfers of large sums of money by the Governor, triggered an FBI investigation which eventually found that the Governor was involved in hiring prostitutes and to make matters worse, doing so across state lines, which elevated the nature of his illegal conduct to a federal level. The good thing was that he wasn’t pimping or hiring them for others. He was just illegally hiring them for himself.

The disclosure took the shine off of Spitzer’s image faster than you could say Ashley Dupree, the name of the call girl that had been able to call Spitzer one of her regulars.

Promptly, Spitzer’s rising star fell and his swollen ego burst as he resigned from office and left New York in the hands of his Lieutenant. Governor, David Paterson.

Although Paterson initially had a rather disarming, dry, and amusing, self depredating, sense of humor, he quickly found himself the center of a developing scandal that involved state troopers and their possible leaking of some unsavory information about the new accidental governor. Paterson got out in front of the story though. He publicly announced that at some point during his marriage he and his wife drifted apart and had separate affairs. After a prying media beat the story to death, Paterson and the public came to accept the fact that those personal problems in the past were just that, in the past, and did not reflect on the stability his loving marriage now or his ability to govern.

But then came the job of governing.

This is where Paterson’s humor could not save him.

He quickly became overwhelmed by economic downturns and political strife. On the economic front, Paterson’s answer to everything was to raise taxes and even invent new taxes on things like carbonated beverages. With a state full of people that were already hurting economically, making things tougher for them was not going over well.

Meanwhile, a unique set of circumstances which saw Democrats take majority control of the state senate for the first time in decades, created an internal power struggle that had one New York Democrat State Senator switch parties and give control back to the Republicans. Democrats played a game of locking the senate chamber and for a few weeks no business was conducted. It became apparent to everyone that not only was David Paterson unable to effectively handle the state of state, he could not even control his own Party. In fact because of his Party all business in state government came to a halt.

Finally, Democrats, without the help of Paterson, worked out their own arrangement, the renegade Democrat who switched to the GOP came back home and swore allegiance to the Party he was screwing with.

But this did not stop New York from continuing to take a nose dive.

The state was in an obvious tailspin, Paterson was at war with the state legislature, he was threatening to raise more taxes, cut school budgets and avoid focusing on any relief for overtaxed, underemployed New Yorkers. This did not go unnoticed by the White House, where weary political strategists are concerned with what will prove to be a very tough midterm election year for Democrats. So quite arrogantly, the Obama Administration sent out the word that they did not want Paterson to stand for reelection. Clearly his presence on any Democrat ticket would be a drain not only on their chances of keeping the Governor’s mansion but also on the two US Senate seats up for grabs in the state as well as quite a few highly competitive House races. In his place, the White House wanted popular State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to run.

Paterson rejected the signal and defiantly vowed to run for Governor. On several occasions he even stated that the only way he was being taken out of the office of governor was either feet first in a box or by defeat at the ballot box.

The more time that went by, the worse things got for Paterson. It became clear that Paterson was unable to control circumstances but was instead being controlled by circumstances. Lacking any political appeal, public sense of leadership or political innovation, Democrats throughout the state were asking Paterson to not run. But he persisted.

Then last week, he set up a sparsely attended, low energy rally to announce his candidacy for Governor. The event was held at his alma mater, Hofstra University, on Long Island. The school administration sent memo’s to students, begging them to show up, but in the end, Paterson’s campaign kickoff was more like a wake than a rally.

Still, undeterred, Paterson spent the last week trying to find any kind of momentum he possible could. But before he could look too far, scandal erupted again. And again it involved state troopers.

This time it was reported that one of Paterson’s closets aides had been involved in a domestic assault with his wife. State troopers were involved, and at some point, Paterson was in touch with the close aide’s wife and persuading her to let the situation go and resist seeking any restraining orders against her husbands, Paterson‘s aide and friend..

Unkown to the public, an investigation regarding any inappropriate involvement by the Governor was being conducted and for more than two weeks, it was rumored that the New York Times did have some sort of bombshell revelation about the Governor.

That investigation was apparently part of it and as the Times began to release their bombshell revelation, things quickly unraveled.

Paterson’s Deputy Secretary for Public Safety abruptly resigned and issued the following message:

“The fact that the Governor and members of the State Police have acknowledged direct contact with a woman who had filed for an order of protection against a senior member of the Governor’s staff is a very serious matter,”

She added;

“These actions are unacceptable regardless of their intent.”

This announcement came after Paterson apparently admitted to talking to the woman who was the victim of the domestic assault carried out by her husband, Paterson’s confidant. At first Paterson publicly stated that the events in question were not forcing him to end his campaign but that he was going to be meeting with leaders throughout the state and talking the issue over with them.

Within hours, Paterson came back and closed down his campaign for Governor.

But still defiant, Paterson refuses to resign from office, despite calls from many state and Party officials to do so. If he does end up resigning or being charged with a crime, Richard Ravitch will assume the office of Governor.

Ravitch was a whole other story that went all the way to state supreme court.

Apparently state lawmakers, particularly Paterson’s Democrat friends in the state senate, argued that Paterson, having not been elected and only assuming office as Lieutenant Governor, had no power to appoint a Lieutenant Governor. Indeed there was no precedence for the situation. In the end, the state supreme court ruled in Paterson’s favor and Ravitch became Lieutenant Governor and is now on the verge of becoming the third Governor of New York in a little over three years.

So as this saga draws to a close, it does indeed deserve a moment of silence. For the end of a disastrous string of transfers of power, legal battles, power struggles, political infighting and unbridled irresponsibility may finally be put out of its misery.

But there are two things worth noting here.

Despite Democrat’s total control of the state and the illegal conduct, reckless behavior, irrational political power plays and total inability to lead New York, Republicans still can’t get there act together in the state. For too long they have been sitting on their arses waiting for Rudy Giuliani to come in and be coroneted. Well guess what? Once again, Rudy isn’t rushing in to save the day. So the lesson is never allow a party to be build itself around any one individual. The New York GOP has been trying to do that for years with Rudy Giuliani and where has it gotten them? About 20 or more points behind Andrew Cuomo with the likely Republican Rick Lazio.

Lazio is a great guy. He was Hillary Clinton’s opponent in her first race for Senate in New York.

Lazio is a terrific candidate and he has my support and my deepest hope for success. However, the state G.O.P.’s lack of laying down of any ground work, will make defeating Andrew Cuomo, the son of former three term Governor Mario Cuomo, almost impossible. But that’s what happens when you rely on one person, namely Rudy Giuliani, to do it all for you.

The other lesson here is that in addition to leaving the Governors office, as he said, either by ballot or feet first in a box, there is a third option for David Paterson. He could leave the office of Governor with his hands in cuffs……an option that is looking more and more possible with each passing hour.

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