Summing Up Gov. David Paterson
As we say farewell to Gov. David A. Paterson, the overriding emotion is relief-for him and for the state.
His sense of humor and courage in dealing with legal blindness, plus the dizzying suddenness of his elevation to governor, made him easy to root for. His frequent missteps made him hard to watch. It's now sadly clear that he was never up to the job of being governor.
Even his last days in office were wrapped in controversy. Paterson commuted the sentence of John White, a black man from Miller Place convicted of manslaughter for shooting a white teenager who was part of a group threatening his son. While Paterson can make a reasonable argument for his action in this tragic case, so fraught with emotions, he weakened it by not speaking to the boy's family until after he had made that decision. Even in talking with the family of Daniel Cicciaro, he sent confusing signals about reconsidering his action, which legally he couldn't do. Speaking with reporters, he admitted handling the case "very badly."
That's how his governorship has gone: too many should-haves. As lieutenant governor, he grumbled that Gov. Eliot Spitzer gave him too little responsibility. But right after Spitzer's resignation, Paterson sullied his first weeks as governor by confessing to drug use and adultery - just as New Yorkers were yearning for steadiness and hope.
Those first days held clues to his flaws, including a tendency to cast himself as a victim. His confession was an effort, he said, to head off blackmail by a rogue State Police unit. Later, he pointed to other villains keeping him down: the State Legislature, the Great Recession, news reporters, rivals for his job.
Paterson was inept and less than truthful in the appointment of a successor to Sen. Hillary Clinton, the smelly Aqueduct racino deal, and the allegations of girlfriend-beating against a key aide, David Johnson. Earlier this month, a state ethics commission fined him $62,125 for accepting free tickets to the 2009 World Series from the Yankees and chided him for lying about it.
Before a pattern of fudging the truth became plain to the public, it was causing his supporters inside government to fall away-first the Senate Democrats, whom he had led for years, then commissioners, department heads and chiefs of staff. Reports emerged that he couldn't be trusted to keep his word or give the same answer from one audience to the next.
Still, he has some accomplishments. His smart stance on the state budget clearly established that the governor is the chief fiscal officer. He said all the right things about reducing expenses to match revenue, so that New York's dozen years of excessive spending would finally end - not in insolvency.
It's fair to wonder what his shaky governorship says about this state's aggressive, often poisonous, political culture. As he ends his bumpy 34 months in office, Paterson has questioned whether the state is "even governable." We hope the next governor proves it is. hN