ALBANY - New York may be better off if Gov. David A. Paterson either relinquishes some of his duties or resigns, experts said Saturday, citing the state's mounting fiscal problems and his extreme political weakness.
They said Paterson was the lamest of lame ducks, having ended his election campaign after only six days because of allegations that he and members of the State Police interfered in a domestic violence case involving a top Paterson aide. The controversy has made legislative leaders wary of helping him craft a budget by the April 1 deadline.
The leaders, according to sources close to them, fear the possibility of more damaging revelations about the governor from an investigation into the domestic violence case by Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.
African-American and Hispanic leaders, many longtime friends of Paterson, met Saturday at Sylvia's Restaurant in Harlem to explore ways of making his remaining days in office productive. The group, convened by the Rev. Al Sharpton, agreed to seek a meeting with Paterson to discuss "how to cohesively move forward" on the budget, economic development, education and other issues, according to a statement from Sharpton.
Influence has evaporated
Paterson's influence with lawmakers evaporated late last year after he repeatedly blamed them for failing to completely close another deficit in the 2009-10 budget. Since then, his spending proposals for 2010-11 have been ignored and he's become increasingly isolated from Capitol goings-on.
"When we look at what's best for the state, you have to ask how effective will Governor Paterson be in budget negotiations," said Susan Lerner, New York director of the good-government group Common Cause. "He has good ideas, but there are questions about follow-through and whether the legislature will listen to him."
Lerner and others doubted Paterson, mired in controversy, has the leverage to strike a deal with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and state Sen. John Sampson, fellow Democrats who together make up the three-men-in-a-room negotiations. Lerner said Paterson should resign in favor of Lt. Gov. Richard Ravitch, who has been credited with helping New York City avoid bankruptcy in the mid-1970s.
Noting Ravitch's pledge not to run for office, she said, "his dog in this fight [over the budget] is trying to find a workable solution, not a solution that works for him."
Joseph F. Zimmerman, a political scientist at the University at Albany, agreed that Ravitch should represent Paterson in budget talks, but cautioned against his resignation.
He said Paterson could remain the state's chief executive as long as he and Ravitch worked as a team on the budget. "There's nothing in the constitution that says the governor has to lead on every issue," Zimmerman said.
Let Ravitch take over?
But William T. Cunningham, who worked for Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Govs. Hugh Carey and Mario Cuomo, said that if Paterson makes Ravitch the negotiator and remains governor, it would create budgetary gridlock.
"I think it would be best for him and the state if he were to resign," said Cunningham, who managed Ravitch's unsuccessful campaign for New York City mayor in 1989.
Paterson, through a spokeswoman, declined to comment.
In scuttling his campaign on Friday, Paterson vowed to focus on closing the $8.2-billion budget deficit between now and Dec. 31, when his term ends.
Ravitch was appointed last July by Paterson in a successful bid to end the Senate coup after 4 1/2 weeks.
A Ravitch spokeswoman didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. However, sources close to him said he is loath to be seen as precipitating Paterson's resignation. "Dick is loyal to the governor and isn't going to play a role in stabbing him in the back," said one source.