Ravitch memoir an insider's view of a dysfunctional Albany
ALBANY -- Former Lt. Gov. Richard Ravitch's memoir paints a picture of Albany that includes political back-stabbing that undermined the Paterson administration and then-Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo working behind the scenes on his way to becoming governor.
Ravitch insists there were still many admirable politicians and staff workers in New York politics, but their best efforts and reputations were compromised by an Albany obsessed with scandal and political power plays.
Never was that clearer than in 2009, a year after Gov. David A. Paterson appointed Ravitch as lieutenant governor. The post was empty after Paterson, the lieutenant governor, succeeded Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who resigned in disgrace amid a prostitution scandal.
Paterson then had to deal with scandals in his administration, including reports that he interfered with State Police to benefit a close friend who also was a top aide.
"The scandals reflected not just the governor's weaknesses," Ravitch writes in the memoir obtained by Newsday, "but also a state political system that had lost its ethical gyroscope. It oscillated between insensitivity to major offenses and hot pursuit of minor or imagined ones."
"There probably weren't many senior state officials who didn't keep at least one eye on the need to cover themselves."
While Paterson dealt with scandal, the Senate was in turmoil. In the summer of 2009, Republicans who lost their half-century control of the Senate mounted a coup with three dissident Democrats. That power struggle gridlocked the legislature for weeks until the dissidents struck deals for lucrative leadership posts in return for going back into the Democratic fold.
"It was about this time that Andrew Cuomo, now viewed as the inevitable victor in the 2010 gubernatorial election, began to make his presence felt within the Paterson administration," Ravitch writes.
"It was nothing formal. But Paterson, after the string of scandals that beset his administration, never recovered his authority; people on Paterson's staff, as well as senior civil servants, became increasingly responsive to public and private statements made by the governor-in-waiting."
Cuomo behind the scenes
Ravitch wrote "it was clear" that Lawrence Schwartz, both Paterson's chief of staff and now Cuomo's top aide, "was already taking directions from the attorney general. Cuomo had the good taste not to try to pre-empt Governor Paterson's authority explicitly, but everyone inside the apparatus had a clear sense that the transition of power was well on its way."
Ravitch said Cuomo's criticism sank the fiscal rescue Ravitch was appointed to create in the wake of the state's worst fiscal crisis since the Great Depression. Later, when speculation ran rampant that Paterson would resign, Ravitch said Cuomo called to ask whom Ravitch would appoint as lieutenant governor.
Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi had no immediate comment yesterday. Paterson didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
Ravitch, a Democrat who had key roles in the 1970s in saving New York City from bankruptcy, will release his memoir, "So Much To Do: A Full Life of Business, Politics and Confronting Fiscal Crises," on April 23. Public Affairs is the publisher.
The dramatics of Albany politics began when Ravitch was appointed lieutenant governor.
Ravitch writes that he was on vacation on Long Island on July 3, 2009, with his family. The biggest question on his mind was whether to go sailing or golfing.
Paterson's then-chief of staff, Charles O'Byrne, called saying the governor wanted to make a bold move to appoint Ravitch lieutenant governor. The conventional wisdom in New York was that a governor couldn't appoint the lieutenant governor -- an elected position -- and that any vacancy would be handled by the Senate majority leader.
Drama on birthday night
On July 6, Ravitch, 25 years out of government, accepted.
The next night, his birthday, he and his wife, Kathy, heard the announcement on the radio on their way to the Peter Luger steakhouse in Brooklyn.
That set off a race to file the appointment in Albany with the secretary of state's office before Senate Republicans could find a judge on Long Island to stop the appointment to allow for a court fight before Ravitch took office.
Paterson's office sent a notary public by taxi to the restaurant to get Ravitch's signature on the oath of office. The taxi and the document then went on to Albany.
"It was duly certified and filed -- just one hour before lawyers for the state Senate's Republican majority leader, joined by one of the defecting Democrats, found a Long Island judge and persuaded him to issue a temporary restraining order," Ravitch writes.