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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Hempstead still thinks fondly of favorite son Paterson

A few weeks ago, Woodrow Roeback, who owns Woody's Promotions on Main Street in Hempstead, designed 2010 campaign buttons, mugs and key chains for the village's favorite son, Gov. David A. Paterson.

One of each was added to a special gift basket presented to Paterson last Saturday when he returned to Hempstead - where he attended public schools and later Hofstra University.

"I used a wedding picture of him and his wife, Michelle, for the key chain," Roeback said Friday as he sat in a cramped office filled with Woody-made mementos of everything from Barack Obama's inauguration to Michael Jackson's death.

On one shelf rested - appropriately enough, since it was storming outside - an apple-shaped snow globe with photographs of Paterson, Obama and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

That's how Woody Roeback and the village of Hempstead see Paterson: A child of the community who rose above adversity, including near-blindness to become a local role model.

"Paterson was one of my heroes because of what he went through, from being almost blind to being a governor," Roeback said. "I'm proud of him for that."

Paterson's decision not to run for election to a full term - no matter his motivation - does nothing to change that in Hempstead.

"I wish he would have stayed to fight," said Maurice Jackson as he paused during a walk near Village Hall. "He was trying to do what needed to be done with the budget mess that he inherited. He should not have let them run him out."

Dorothy Goosby, a Hempstead Town councilwoman who attended Paterson's election campaign announcement at Hofstra last Saturday, said she was sad to hear that the governor was suspending that run. "He came home because he knew that a community always loves its children," said Goosby.

Shortly after 3 p.m., Roeback, who is 68, tuned the TV in his shop to CNN and sat back, along with his apprentice, Terry Williams, 23, to hear Paterson.

The governor, with his wife at his side, looked eerily as though they were re-creating the pained-wife, shamed-husband resignation scene of his predecessor, Eliot Spitzer.

"It's better that he bowed out before he was kicked out," said Williams.

But Roeback, who has spent decades creating mementos, had a longer view. "He knows how to rise from a struggle and he's from Hempstead," Roeback said.

Roeback has seen many good days and bad days in Hempstead through the shop he runs. He has created custom birthday buttons and, more recently, buttons and T-shirts bearing the photographs of Vanessa Argueta and her toddler son Diego Torres, found murdered in a wooded area in Central Islip.

For now, Roeback won't be making any more Paterson campaign buttons. Instead, he's planning a plate commemorating Paterson as New York's first African-American governor, and its first legally blind governor.

"No matter what happens," Roeback said, "the governor's got good days waiting for him."

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