Josh Goodman is a former staff writer for GOVERNING..E-mail: email@example.com
The big news today is that New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer has been linked to a prostitution ring. The big news tomorrow might be that David Paterson has taken over as governor.
Paterson currently serves as lieutenant governor, where he was elected on a ticket with Spitzer in 2006. Before that, he was Minority Leader of the New York State Senate. Like Spitzer, he's a Democrat.
Paterson would be the fourth African-American governor in U.S. history, following Virginia's Doug Wilder, Massachusetts' Deval Patrick and Louisiana's P.B.S. Pinchback, a Governing trivia favorite.
Perhaps even more interesting than Paterson's race: He's legally blind. I'm not sure whether Paterson would be the nation's first blind governor. There have been blind U.S. senators, including Thomas Pryor Gore and Thomas Schall.
Paterson's ascension would mean he'd replace Spitzer as a Democratic superdelegate, but that wouldn't change the presidential race. He, like Spitzer, is a Hillary Clinton supporter. Paterson's name has been at the top of the list of possible replacements for Clinton in the Senate, should she win the presidency or vice presidency.
But what kind of governor would he be?
The New York Observer ran a fairly unflattering profile of Paterson when Spitzer picked him two years ago. A key paragraph:
Mr. Spitzer selected a man described as "a living contradiction" by one longtime associate. Indeed, Mr. Paterson's 20 years in public life have been characterized by an array of contradictions, some of them openly stated, many irreconcilable. He's a maverick champion of the younger generation whose Senate seat was handed to him, via a special election, by top Harlem Democrats allied with his powerful father, Basil Paterson. He's a self-described reformer who spent nearly two decades in a comfortable political sinecure before launching a reform campaign as Senate Minority Leader.
That same profile also mentioned that some Democrats think he worked too closely with the Senate's Republican leader, Joseph Bruno:
At the same time, Mr. Paterson has been criticized as being too eager to please the Republican Senate leader, Joseph Bruno. Democrats griped when their leader agreed to serve on a Medicaid reform panel that Mr. Bruno assembled, lending it a bipartisan sheen. (Mr. Paterson said he'd had the idea for such a panel months earlier, but that his staff had failed to execute it. "I'm standing there smiling, but I'm seething inside.") But by all accounts, he and the equally frank and charming Mr. Bruno get along easily. On the Democrat's desk is a silver box, with the script:
"Happy Birthday David, the always eloquent statesman." It's dated 2005 and engraved with Mr. Bruno's name.
What looked like a weakness in 2006 might be a strength today. Spitzer's relationship with Bruno has been a source of endless misery for the governor. A Paterson governorship, therefore, might be a way for New York to turn the page, in more ways than one.
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