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Michael Miller

Viewpoint

By Michael Miller
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Another Paterson Watch

Only twice has a New York Lieutenant Governor succeeded to the governorship and been elected in his own right at the next election. Enos T. Throop (the “h” was silent), was elected Governor in 1830 after taking over for his close friend, Martin Van Buren. The other was David B. Hill, who replaced Grover Cleveland and was elected on his own in 1885 and 1888. Both were backed by powerful statewide political machines. Governor Paterson had no large organization and little precedent behind him, but he believed from his first day as governor that he was automatically entitled to allegiance and renomination. Some players never recognized that obligation.

It would have gone much better for Governor Paterson over the past two years if he had made it clear from the first day that in this time of multiple crises he would concentrate on being governor, not running for governor. Things might be playing out differently had he set a tone that transcended personal political positioning. Even if by this point there weren’t spontaneous calls for his nomination, an attempt to remain on higher ground at a difficult time would have generated acknowledgment and even gratitude from his state and his party. Instead, details of the first fundraising event of Mr. Paterson’s campaign for governor were on the street only days after he took the oath of office. It was very successful. At a time when Americans and New Yorkers craved a new kind of leadership, Mr. Paterson demonstrated over and over that he was part of the political establishment that he now condemns.

Many people want to support a governor who takes on the entrenched and powerful interests that have let us down. Too many see his new anti-establishment rhetoric as just another make-over.

Governor Paterson took office in a festival atmosphere. Relieved to be rid of abrasive Governor Spitzer, legislators and VIPs practically bounced beach balls around the Assembly Chamber throughout an unprecedented “do over” of the State of the State address. Politicians earn trust through consistency, and Governor Paterson, as if unaware of the existence of recording devices, has frequently been inconsistent from one hour to the next. Soon, his pronouncements were seen by other elected officials as posturing, or test marketing, or confusion, or chaos. His political problems didn’t begin with the controversial U.S. Senate appointment in early 2009. Hard feelings and hostility were already built up, percolating just beneath the surface. They were suddenly, forcefully released by a national moment of weakness. Same as Spitzer.

As I’m writing this (Friday, Feb. 26, 2 p.m.), I am monitoring newspaper sites, wire services, blogs and e-mails. In this latest controversy, it’s not yet clear that the governor has actually done something wrong, but there is obvious Paterson Fatigue. The consensus is “Please. Enough.” Even close associates are expressing concern about his personal future beyond the governorship if he runs and is embarrassed.

If investigation shows that this goes beyond looking bad, if the governor actually did make the stupidest telephone call in history of Albany Stupid, then four daily newspapers have already said flat out in editorials that he will have to resign. Another, the Post, isn’t waiting for an investigation and has three editorials and columns demanding resignation. It’s only Day One.

If there is withdrawal or resignation, some people are going to have an awfully empty feeling without Mr. Paterson in the picture. State Republicans, preparing to run a ticket made up mostly of Men From Wall Street, are short on funds and currently plan to finance serious challenges to incumbent Democratic Senators in only three districts. Good luck with all that. Mr. Andrew Cuomo may come to realize that for the next few years, being governor may not be as satisfying or as important to the country as being Attorney General. Some Democrats are suddenly remembering that dealing with the Cuomo administrations in the 1980s and 1990s could sometimes be very unpleasant.

As I am submitting this column, Governor Paterson has called a press conference for late this afternoon.

Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. Email: millercolumn@optimum.net