POLITICAL NEWS Analysis
Paterson Takes Charge
(AP) In two blistering years, New York Gov. David Paterson has been depicted as a lying Pinnochio in newsprint and a 10-foot rat at a union rally. A fellow Democrat called him “coke snorting, staff-banging governor,” a union boss compared him to the German Army in World War II, and front page headlines carried calls for him to quit seven months ago after he “demeaned his high office.”
Yet Paterson is still here. And, amazingly, he’s becoming a bit of a hero in a time that desperately needs one.
A Newsday editorial praised what it called the “Paterson ultimatum” in setting Monday, June 28 as a day for the Legislature to either have a budget, due more than two months ago, or he would cram one down its throat. It’s no longer an idle threat. Paterson, emboldened rather that shackled by his lame duck status, dug up a provision in a 30-year-old law that allowed him to craft a budget in the face of insolvency when a spending plan is late. The law allows Paterson to force the Legislature to choose between voting for everything he puts in budget extensions—and so far it’s been a lot of spending cuts lawmakers have avoided—or shut down government.
Even the Legislature that’s raging in “dysfunction on steroids,” as 33- year veteran Sen. Hugh Farley called it, wouldn’t touch that this election year. And, apparently, Paterson knew it.
“Facing down the Legislature takes guts, and Paterson deserves real credit for making the fight,” the New York Post editorial gushed this week after months of biting criticism of the Democrat. “We wish Paterson the best.”
The Buffalo News opined that New York’s first blind, black governor “deserves enormous credit for constantly looking for a solution and finally coming up with an innovative one that got rammed down the throat of the Legislature.”
“The Legislature has been here over two months and abdicated its responsibility,” Paterson told reporters last Sunday, June 13, on the eve of what could have been a shutdown of state government. “Get this done already. And if you’re not going to do it, I’m going to.”
Yet, he’s talked tough before.
The difference in recent months is that he has carried out the threats, succeeding as he never has before at a critical juncture in New York’s history in a year marked by personal and political disaster.
“I’m not a quitter,” Paterson said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I certainly, in this period, learned things about myself that I didn’t know. I dare say there is no one in this country or on this planet who has faced more ridicule, scrutiny, just innuendo based on no evidence, and at times humiliation, than me.
“But I am a person who had to find creative ways to get around obstacles,” he said. “I and a lot of disabled people ... live in a constant state of conflict.”
In a state where deficits were common even in good years, New York’s fiscal crisis is unprecedented, with a $9.2 billion deficit this year alone.
Yet already he’s forced the adoption of more than half the state’s budget in two weeks.
“I came to the conclusion I can’t go into July and August with a deficit,” he said. “So when we actually thought of this idea, we held it awhile, to make sure this is the way we had to do it. Then we employed it.”
Some doubted he could insert budget cuts in routine budget “extender” bills. More thought Paterson would cave.
Now, however, Paterson sees and seizes his purpose clearly, listening to advisers often overlooked by his predecessors.
“Even in the most difficult of times, I would get out of my car or walking to an event and people would come up and encourage me,” he said. One of the darkest times was in March. He was being investigated for his role in a police case in which a top aide was accused in a domestic violence case, for getting free World Series tickets from the Yankees, and he had just dropped out of a race for a full term. But he found strength at 94th and Columbus in Manhattan.
“A truck full of firefighters said, ‘Hang in there, governor! Don’t let anybody push you around!’” he added.
Paterson, however, is still out of a job come Dec. 31. His polls show New Yorkers respect and like him, but not enough to return the guy in charge of two of Albany’s most chaotic years to another term. A soft landing at 56 years old won’t be so easy for Paterson, who has few political friends or former allies in monied special interests left.
But when Paterson leaves the office he was accused of demeaning, he will leave it far stronger. His action means one person will now be able to act when disaster overwhelms the deliberative legislative process. It’s an antidote, at least in extreme crises that threaten the solvency, to an ailment the Rockefeller Institute of Government’s detailed last week: New York’s governor—compared to other states’ chief executives—has little constitutional power to act unilaterally on a midyear fiscal crisis.
“I would say part of my solution was hard work, part of it is prayer,” Paterson said as he enters his biggest and perhaps last major act as governor. “But the part I wasn’t expecting was the encouragement of other New Yorkers ... I certainly would like to thank them.”
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