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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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White House Request

The front page headline in last Sunday’s New York Times was a stunner: ‘Obama Requests That Paterson Drop Campaign.’

Governor Paterson is said to be resisting this White House request, the article says. Well, wouldn’t you? No where in the Times story is there any mention of what President Obama might be offering, if anything, to the governor in exchange for his departure from elective office: an ambassador’s job; a cabinet post; a high-paying private-sector gig?

Nope, the president just wants the governor gone and, in the Chicago Democratic political culture in which Barack Obama thrived, you do what you are told. Look, this tactic has already worked in clearing the New York Democratic field for the 2010 U.S. Senate seat now held by U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. U.S. House Members Steve Israel (D-Dix Hills), Carolyn McCarthy (D-Mineola), and Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan), all of whom made noises about running a primary next year against Senator Gillibrand, folded like cheap cameras when the White House made its displeasure about their intentions known. Those three Members of Congress had a relatively safe Plan B: seek re-election to their current posts in November 2010.

Governor Paterson, however, appears to be made of sterner stuff than those three wannabe U.S. Senators, if the Times story is portraying his stance accurately. I just wish the governor would bring the same level of backbone he’s showing the White House to governing the state and reigning in the lunatics who run the state Senate’s asylum. You’d never know from the events of this year that David Paterson was the longtime state Senate minority leader.

Despite his poor standings in the polls, the governor has enormous leverage just by virtue of being the governor. He is the chief executive officer of an enterprise which spends more than $130 billion each year and has broad control of a payroll totaling almost 200,000 employees statewide. Plus, despite the pressures and responsibilities of being governor, there are perks you come to enjoy, starting with a mansion in which to kick back with the family after work and 24/7 access to state aircraft. If you want me to leave, Governor Paterson seems to be saying, the alternative ought to be something extraordinary.

There is also the question of gubernatorial succession, which wasn’t really explored in an otherwise excellent New York Times assessment of the situation.

If Governor Paterson were to step down from office tomorrow, or next month, who would his successor be? He appointed a lieutenant governor, Richard Ravitch, although the legality of that action is still being challenged in the courts.

My one piece of advice: under no circumstances should the governor announce he is not running in 2010, serve out his term through January 2011, and believe an Obama administration-promised job awaits him the day after he leaves office.  The president may be bringing us ‘Change You Can Believe In’ but Governor Paterson seems to understand that President Ronald Reagan’s mantra ought to guide his negotiations with this White House: ‘Trust, but verify.’

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism.

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism. Email: