Was Paterson's Move Necessary?

New York Gov. David Paterson had to take the unprecedented, legally controversial step of appointing a new lieutenant governor because the New York Senate, tied 31...
by | July 9, 2009

New York Gov. David Paterson had to take the unprecedented, legally controversial step of appointing a new lieutenant governor because the New York Senate, tied 31-31, was doomed to an endless stalemate, with no power-sharing agreement in sight. Right?

Perhaps not. Just a couple of days ago, Newsday was reporting signs of progress in the negotiations:

ALBANY - Sounding more upbeat, State Senate chiefs said Tuesday they hoped by week's end to strike a deal that would break the monthlong impasse.

The five men, emerging from a half-hour meeting with Gov. David A. Paterson, said they had agreed to negotiate a pact for the 18 months remaining in the two-year legislative cycle. They will attempt to meld two proposals from Democrats with one from the Republican-dominated coalition.

"We think we're substantially there," said GOP leader Dean Skelos, of Rockville Centre. "But certainly there are certain things that the Democrat conference has a right to make recommendations [on], perhaps changes."

Why would Paterson have made this move now, if a deal seemed imminent?

The Albany Times-Union's Capitol Confidential aired the cynical explanation yesterday:

Some Democrats are saying that Paterson is eschewing conventional wisdom and the legal opinion of Attorney General Andrew Coumo that he does not have the authority to make the appointment, because the governor is enjoying the boost he's gotten in seemingly bossing around the Senate during the power struggle in the chamber.

To let the Senate come to terms on a power sharing arrangement would take away Paterson's punching bag, one pundit said. His internal poll numbers have improved 7 points, to 26 percent, since he began ordering the Senate to report to work in extraordinary sessions the past three weeks, one person familiar with Paterson's campaign said.

However, it's not clear how close negotiators truly were to a power-sharing deal. Paterson aides told the New York Times that the appointment actually might make an agreement more likely, by removing the obstacle of Sen. Pedro Espada:

There is another unspoken rationale for the governor to appoint Mr. Ravitch. His aides believe that it may smooth the way for a power-sharing deal between Senate Democrats and Republicans by removing something Democrats have said they cannot abide: the idea of Mr. Espada being next in line to succeed Mr. Paterson.

Mr. Espada claimed the title of Senate president on June 8, and were he to retain that title, the absence of a lieutenant governor would make him second in line to Mr. Paterson.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com  | 

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