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GOVERNOR PATERSON--THE BACK STORY

January 18, 2010 - Ray Hall (Archive)
GOVERNOR: On March 17, 2008, Governor Eliot Spitzer unexpectedly resigned as Governor of New York. Suddenly, Lieutenant Governor and former Senate Minority Leader David A. Paterson, hardly a household name, became New York’s fifty-fifth and current Governor.

Paterson, the son of politically connected and universally respected Basil Paterson who served as New York’s Secretary of State was immediately viewed with public favor. Blind from the age of three months, Paterson at once became the first legally blind Governor of New York and the first African-American to hold that office.

A Hofstra Law School graduate Paterson worked in the office of the Queens County District Attorney and served on the staff of Manhattan Borough President David Dinkins. In 1985 Paterson won a hotly contested special election for the State Senate in District 29, a seat once held by his father and by 2003 he had risen to the position of Minority Leader.

Paterson, clearly a man with a political pedigree, a political ‘blue blood’ of sorts had one of the most prestigious political positions in the United States handed to him. Who would have expected that an established campaigner, a man behind Eliot Spitzer on a ballot that received a whopping sixty-nine percent of the vote would not be a sympathetic figure certain to be elected?

Paterson became New York’s first black Governor but it seems unlikely he will become the first elected black governor. As Governor of New York Paterson has lower approval ratings than any of his predecessors and is expected to lose the Democratic nomination in a primary to Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.

THE BACK STORY: To say David Paterson was lucky in becoming Lieutenant Governor and subsequently Governor is an under statement of epical proportions especially since influential Democratic insiders had already endorsed another candidate.

Leecia Eve, a former Buffalo resident and graduate of Harvard Law School announced in 2005 that she would be a candidate for Lieutenant Governor. Eve worked on the staff of Senator Hillary Clinton (D-New York) and previously was an aide to Senator Joe Biden (D-Delaware). Eve, the offspring of another powerhouse political family, her father was Arthur Eve from Buffalo who was elected to the State Assembly in 1966 and became Deputy Speaker in 1979, a post he held until he retired in 2003. Even in retirement Arthur Eve remains a powerful force in New York political circles.

Immediately upon expressing her intentions for Lieutenant Governor Leecia Eve won endorsements from New York’s prominent Democrats. Among those to endorse Eve was former New York City Mayor David Dinkins, New York’s most powerful Congressman Charles Rangel, Percy Sutton, Manhattan Borough President, and Basil Paterson, David Paterson’s father. Those endorsements put Eliot Spitzer, New York’s Attorney General and overwhelming favorite to become New York’s fifty-fourth Governor in a tricky political situation. Top of the ticket candidates from Mayor to Governor and everything in between usually carry enormous egos. Top ticket candidates cringe to think a running mate or top aide might be more popular or have potential for the top job and tend to pick a running mate that in the best of all worlds blends with the wallpaper. Notice; Hillary Clinton is not Vice President.

Eliot Spitzer did not want Leecia Eve, but if he rejects her he is going to infuriate politicians that can influence nearly twenty-five percent of the vote. Spitzer didn’t come to town on a political turnip truck either, he was experienced. Spitzer simply took a page from Presidents Lyndon Johnson’s political playbook.

During LBJ’s term he was at odds with fellow Texan and Supreme Court Justice Tom Clark. He wanted badly for Clark to retire so he could appoint Thurgood Marshall to the nation’s highest court, but Clark was digging in his heels to thwart Johnson. Not to be outdone President Johnson appointed Ramsey Clark Attorney General, the son of Justice Clark. Clark resigned from the court to avoid a conflict of interest and to further his son’s career.

In what was a brilliant political ploy, Eliot Spitzer picked David A. Paterson, the son of Basil Paterson who had already pledged his support to Leecia Eve. There was a near certainty that whoever became the nominee for Lieutenant Governor would be swept into office in a Spitzer land slide. Spitzer’s move preempted a certain controversy and the Eve supporters faded quietly into the background and Eliot Spitzer got the running mate of his choice.

Eliot Spitzer got a running mate that would melt into the background, however it wasn’t his Lieutenant Governor that proved a challenge, it was his own proclivity and a twenty-two year old highly paid prostitute that proved to be his undoing.

 
 

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Hon. David A. Paterson