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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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A Perfect Political Storm Is Brewing In New York

Bookmark and Share    A perfect storm is a unique combination of circumstances that allow two or more weather fronts to meet and mix with a moisture rich air mass. The perfect timing and combination often produce storms of unprecedented power and devastation. Although the term is often reserved for meteorological references, it can also be applied to events unrelated to weather. For instance, the recent events that allowed a Republican to be elected to the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts is a prime example of a metaphorical use of the phrase “perfect storm”. A unique set of circumstances that brought voter dissatisfaction, and a perceived liberal arrogance together with a good Republican candidate and a bad Democrat candidate, made for a perfect storm that emaciated the filibuster-proof majority that Democrats held over the nation.

That same type of perfect storm is brewing in the political atmosphere of New York State. It takes a vulnerable liberal incumbent, an aggressive former Tennessee Congressman and a former Republican Congresswoman and puts them together to create a scenario that, if all the timing is right, could make for a scenario that recreates in New York, the same type of political Nor’ Easter that we saw in Massachusetts.

After being picked to fill Hillary Clinton’s vacated senate seat by New York’s unpopular Governor David Paterson, Kirsten Gillibrand is seen as one of the most vulnerable Democrats in the U.S. Senate. Ironically her vulnerabilities are more exposed among fellow Democrats than  it is with the loyal Republican opposition.

Initially, Gillibrand is most vulnerable to fellow Democrats who want to be the next U.S. Senator from New York.

Gillibrand remains largely unknown as a Senator. So far she has failed to become the champion of any issue and being picked by an unpopular Governor is not helping her. That is why everyone who is anyone looked at challenging her for the Democrat nomination.

Congressman Steve Israel was looking at launching his candidacy. So were several other state figures. But at the behest of President Obama, they all bowed out. The White House does not want to lose what is currently  a safe seat because of a bloody primary battle. This was especially the case when it looked like the most popular Republican in the state, Rudy Giuliani might be the G.O.P. nominee against Gillibrand. But Giuliani declined to run, again. That essentially left the road to winning the general election clear for Gillibrand……..so long as she was not dragged through the mud in a primary.

The White House did a good job at discouraging competition. Most New York Democrats heeded the President’s  advice and dropped any challenge to Kirsten Gillibrand. All except for one……former Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford.

Ford is actually using his disobedience with the White House to his advantage. After getting much attention regarding his possible challenge to Senator Gillibrand, President Obama went very public in trying to deter Ford from actually running. But as Ford embarks on his” listening tour” of the state, he is taking that very public presidential demand and telling people that he will be an independent leader who will not take orders from anyone, including his fellow Democrat, President Obama.

Ford has billed his listening tour as a tool to help him to decide on whether or not he will run. But while shaking hands at a diner in Tappan, New York, he introduced himself by saying “I’m Harold Ford and I’m running for the U.S. Senate”. This Freudian slip was repeated quite a few times and each time, after he let the cat out of the bag, he quickly corrected himself and stated, “I’m thinking about running for the U.S. Senate”.

So it looks like Ford is actually going for it. He is just going through the motions at the moment and using the suspense to get a great deal of free publicity and exposure.

I did not think Ford would actually go through with a primary challenge to Gillibrand. Despite her low name I.D. and less than stellar approval ratings, Gillibrand’s negative ratings are among the lowest of any Democrat in the state and in just one year’s time, she has built quite a large war chest. With over $7 million raised since last February, she has raised more than any other senators with the exceptoion  of Democrat Majority Leader Harry Reid and her New York colleague, the state’s senior senator, Chuck Schumer.

Given her support from the President along with her potential for getting her numbers up and her hefty fundraising abilities, I did not think Harold Ford would go for it. Especially given the fact that he will be labeled as a carpetbagger.

But Ford is extraordinarily power hungry. That is why he is no longer a Congressman from Tennessee. He gave that seat up when he chose to try to move up the political ladder by running for the U.S. Senate in that state.        He lost.

The decision to run for that senate seat came shortly after Ford tried to became the Democrat leader of the House of Representatives.

He ran against Nancy Pelosi.         He lost that too.

So now, with his Tennessee political fortunes exhausted, he moved to New York where he became a consultant for Merrill Lynch. That Wall Street name will be something that won’t help him if he does run. But I believe Harold understands that he could overcome that negative by going with the anti-incumbency sentiments and existing anger with the establishment. President Obama’s public attempt to discourage Harold Ford from running simply adds to this strategy. That is why Ford just might be able to get a lot of traction by claiming that he will not take orders from anyone.

If President Obama’s approval ratings continue to drop, and fails to even inspire Democrats, as was the case in Massachusetts, New Jersey and Virginia, Ford’s opposing the President’s wishes will be to his advantage.

It is a gamble, but Harold Ford, Jr. is banking on distancing himself from President Obama and while he makes a run  from the President and to the left of the political spectrum, he will hype up the fact that Kirsten Gillibrand is the President’s senator but he will be the people’s senator. The scenario is interesting and very plausible. But essential to it working will be Ford’s fundraising ability.

Winning the Democrat nomination for statewide office in New York is currently viewed as the real fight, because with Rudy out, there is little chance of a Republican winning. Unless of course the Democrat primary between Ford and Gillibrand leaves the winner bloody. If that happens, whether the nominee be Gillibrand or Ford, one Republican might be able to turn things around.

Former Governor George Pataki is considering a run. Against Gillibrand, he could possibly pull it off, but if his opponent were to be the independent minded Harold Ford,  Pataki’s chances are diminished greatly. But Pataki is not the potential game changer. That person is former Congresswoman Susan Molinari.

Susan is the daughter of long serving, popular, former Republican New York Congressman Guy Molinari. When Guy did not get a position in President George H. W. Bush’s administration, he retired from Congress. Back then President Bush told Guy that he could not afford losing him in the House. Leaving was Guy’s way of saying “screw you”. So off he went. Guy then went on to become Borough President of Staten Island, the most Republican of New York City’s five counties. Replacing Guy in Congress was his daughter, City Councilwoman Susan Molinari.

For the longest time, Susan was the only Republican in the New York City Council and as such was already fairly well known. But after serving in Congress she soon became a darling of the Party.

Moderate in her politics, Susan played up her pro-choice stance with liberals and women while simultaneously playing up her defense and fiscal policies with conservatives. Both had an appreciation of her. But in 1997 after marrying Buffalo, New York’s former Congressman, Bill Paxon, Susan decided not to run for a urth term in Congress.

Now she is thinking about coming out of retirement.

Her father has said that after no star candidate emerged to challenge Gillibrand, “All of a sudden I think, the best candidate in the entire country is my daughter”.

I know Susan, and I can tell you right now that she is not “the best candidate in the entire country”, but she could be one of the best positioned Republican candidates in New York to take a U.S. Senate seat away from Democrats.

If a bloody Gillibrand is the inevitable nominee, Susan will help to split the women’s vote, especially suburban soccer Moms. If Ford is the badly bruised winner of the primary, he will have severely depleted his campaign war chest and he will have also gone through a campaign that will surely have labeled him an outsider. Put up against native New Yorker, Susan Molinari, who can easily raise a substantial campaign fund, Tennessee Ford will find himself having a tough time beating her. Molinari will, again, get a substantial number of votes from women, she will hold down Democrat numbers coming out of New York City and she will be able to go toe to toe with Ford on who is more independent. In addition to all that, Harry will also have a tough time reconciling the more liberal  Harold Ford of New York’s 2010  senate race, with the more conservative Harold Ford who ran in 2006 for the U.S. Senate from Tennessee.  Many of his positions hav changed.  Gay marriage is just one example.  Among the more conservative Tennessee electorate, Harry was opposed to same sex marriage.  Now, among more liberal New Yorkers, he is for same sex marriage.  Which Ford would New Yorkers really be getting? 

Kirsten Gillibrand will have all this amunition too but here’s where another part of this perfect storm comes into play.

Governor Paterson is African-American.  He is going to be challenged for the gubernatorial  nomination by Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, an Itsalian-American.  This situation is going to have an effect on a Gillibrand-Ford race. 

Paterson is currently expected to lose to Cuomo, but one thing is for sure. Race will play a role and  African-American New Yorker’s will be coming out for Governor Paterson.   

While at the polls,  a great many of them are likely to cast their senate primary vote for Harold Ford, Jr., who is also African-American.  So no matter how much Gillibrand may attack Ford for flip-flopping, Ford can count on attratcing many black voters away from Gillibrand.

 As a Republican, I for one do hope that Ford runs. By making a strong bid for the Democrat nomination, he will do much more good for the G.O.P. than he will for Democrats and if he wins that nomination, he will make it pretty easy for Susan Molinari to walk right up the middle and into the senate chambers of Washington, D.C..

Now all Republicans have to do is make sure that Susan Molinari becomes their nominee. If she does, New York might pull off a Massachusetts-like surprise that will add to the already substantial gains in Congress that Republicans are heading towards. But one without the other will not work. If Republicans don’t properly seed the storm clouds, their electoral drought will be long lasting.

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White House Addresses “The David Paterson Problem” And Braces For Midterm Election Losses

Bookmark and Share    As the White House wraps up a summer that saw the luster taken off their image, the administration is beginning to brace itself for a beating.

demsin distressIn what can only be interpreted as an attempt to stop what the President’s strategists see as troubling mid-term election results, members of the administration have addressed what the call “The David Paterson Problem” and asked New York Governor David Paterson to pull out of next year’s race for Governor and on Monday the President’s chief strategist will meet privately meet with the Governor.

According to the New York Times “The decision to ask Mr. Paterson to step aside was proposed by political advisers to Mr. Obama, but approved by the president himself”

The Times confirmed that the President is concerned with Governor Paterson’s standing in the state and quote one source as saying “The president’s request (for Paterson to not run) was conveyed to the Mr. Paterson by Representative Gregory W. Meeks, a Queens Democrat, who has developed a strong relationship with the Obama administration”.

In a WCBS radio interview, Governor Paterson did confirm that he has had private conversations with the administration but he stated that he will not discuss the content of any private conversations.

The request for Paterson to step aside and not run is an extraordinary one. Normally, Presidents do not make such requests. On the rare occasion that they have, the reasoning was due to the involvement of criminal conduct. The drama involving impeached former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is such an example. However; in this case, although Paterson came into office because of the criminal conduct of his predecessor, Eliot Spitzer, such is not the reason the administration is urging Paterson to drop out. The reasons are purely political and a sign of a White House that is preparing for a bruising in 2010.

Paterson’s poll number are horrific. A Siena Research Institute poll found 55 percent of registered voters had an unfavorable opinion of the governor while only 32 percent viewed him favorably. The same poll also makes it clear that Paterson’s likely opponent for the job, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, trounces the Governor in a head to head match up.

These numbers do not concern the White House in so far as how they pertain to Paterson personally.

They concern the White House because these numbers scare the hell out of them in regards to how poorly Paterson’s presence effect will  congressional races, down ticket from the race for governor next year, during mid-term elections.

In addition to all members of the House of Representatives being up for relection, New York has two races for U.S. Senate being held. One is for the expired term of New York state’s senior senator, Chuck Schumer and the other is to fill out the unexpired term of former Senator and now Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. In that race, Democrats will be trying to keep Senator Kirsten Gillibrand in office. Giilibrand was the hand picked choice who Paterson appointed to the fill the vacancy.

Clearly if the President hopes to at least keep some of his parties congressional and senate seats from New York, a strong top of their ticket will be crucial. It is also clear to him and his political strategists that having David Paterson at the top of the ballot will not make for a “strong” ticket, it will make for a disastrous one.

Given all the facts, fear can be the only reason for the almost unprecedented White House request for a sitting Governor of their own party to step aside. The administration is apparently fearful of a repeat of the 1994 mid-term elections which brought Republicans in control of both houses of Congress for the first time in four decades. Much of the reasoning for that occurrence was do in large part to the then Clinton administration’s attempt to, much like this administration, adopt partisan health management and care reform.

As the President’s own numbers become wobbly and as Democrats tie HR 3200 to their hip, the political wing of the President’s staff is apparently trying to avoid a repeat of history in next year’s elections. The request for Paterson to step aside is just the first sign of that.

Under normal circumstances a sitting President would not ask one of the only two African-American governors in the country to step aside. And under normal circumstances even bad poll numbers would not prompt such a request. Case in point: New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine has poll numbers that almost parallel David Paterson’s. Yet despite those poor polling numbers, President Obama has been steadfast behind Governor Corzine as he runs for reelection this year. The President has even shown up for a rally in support of Corzine. But the Governor of New Jersey is not running for reelection next year when congressional seats are up for grabs. That means Corzine’s lagging candidacy is not a threat to the balance of power in Washington. Not yet anyway.

These facts demonstrate that the White House is scared and that strategists for the President are trying to stop the hemorrhaging of support and popularity that could punish Democrats next November. If such was not the case President Obama would be cheering Governor Paterson on and urging him to keep up the good work, even without there being much good work to speak of.

Of course, in light of the arguments of the left, President Obama’s request for Governor Paterson to step aside could be blamed on racism. If President Carter is right about the reason for people disagreeing with President Obama being because Obama is black, than clearly the reason President Obama disagrees with Paterson is because he is black. Or maybe the President has prejudices against the blind and disagrees with David Paterson because he is legally blind.

Personally I will give President Obama the benefit of the doubt and assume that he is not asking the incumbent New York Governor to give up attempts to run again because of his color or disability. That would leave the fear factor as the reason for the unusual actions of the White House.

For his part, Governor Paterson told WCBS Radio News, that he is running for Governor and has no plans on pulling out. That will make for an interesting New York primary.

Former Governor Mario Cuomo’s son Andrew Cuomo, the state’s Attorney General, is likely to defeat Paterson and secure the Democrat nomination for Governor. But such a primary will create a divide that will form along lines of race. It could also effect Kristen Gillibrand’s election. Some Democrats are looking at a challenging her for the Democrat nomination. If that challenge were to materialize, as David Paterson’s candidate, Kristen Gillibrand could have some trouble of her own on her hands.

Strategically, the implications of Paterson’s refusal to step aside and to continue with an inevitable primary, are problematic. The unorthodox steps that President Obama has taken by interjecting himself into the New York gubernatorial primary is proof of just how problematic. It is also a sign that the President and Democrat strategists are beginning to sweat.     Bookmark and Share

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