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As rumors swirl, Paterson has uphill climb

BY JASON FINK
 

Gov. David Paterson’s aides insisted Monday that he will remain in office and seek re-election even as rumors continued to swirl about his personal life.

Paterson, who faces a potential Democratic primary challenge from Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, has spent the past two weeks intensely working the phones to line up political and financial support as he tries to kick off his campaign in earnest, officials said Sunday.


But some New Yorkers weren’t confident he could rebound.
 

"He won’t be re-elected because there’s too many scandals," said Orquidea Sanchez, 27, of the Bronx. "I don’t think he’s a good governor. He’s not doing anything about the MTA. He’s not doing anything for us, just taking our money and that’s it.”
 

But, as has happened before in Paterson’s rocky two-year term, his chances of political survival are teetering as he reels from a series of missteps and bad luck. Here are some of the problems he must overcome:
 

PERSONAL LIFE
 

What happened: The political classes have been chattering for days about a possible New York Times story that will reveal embarrassing details about Paterson’s personal life and lead to his resignation. Yesterday, the governor told the Associated Press that the rumors are a character assault and he denied sexual improprieties.
 

Why it hurts: After assuming office because of a sex scandal by his predecessor, and dogged by criticism that he is undisciplined, Paterson can ill-afford the Tiger Woods treatment as he seeks to paint himself as a trustworthy fiscal steward of the state.
 

How he can overcome it: If there’s no truth to the rumors he’ll weather the negative attention but it reminds voters of the fact that he admitted to drug use and affairs in the past. Still, the public has become more tolerant of such indiscretions.
“It’s like with celebrity gossip, people read this stuff but they still go to the movies,” saidKenneth Sherrill, political science professor at Hunter College.
 

AQUEDUCT
 

What happened: The state awarded a contract to run a casino at Aqueduct to a company in which politically influential Queens pastor Floyd Flake is an investor. Flake said he met with Paterson days later to discuss whom he might support in a primary but Paterson’s camp said no endorsement was discussed.
 

Why it hurts: The possibility that politics played a role in awarding a state contract raises ethical red flags.
 

How he can overcome it: Distance himself politically from Floyd and make public the reasons AEG was selected over other bidders.
 

FUNDRAISING
 

What happened: Cuomo, who has yet to declare his candidacy, has raised five times as much money as Paterson.
 

Why it hurts: As Mayor Michael Bloomberg proved, an imbalance in campaign spending can alter the dynamics of a race and allow the better-funded candidate to dominate the airwaves and the ground game.
 

How he can overcome it: Success breeds success. Until Paterson shows some life in the polls and notches some political victories, donors will be reluctant to bet on him.
 

BUDGET
 

What happened: The state faces an $8 billion deficit and Paterson is locked in a battle with the Legislature over how to fix it.
 

Why it hurts: The governor has proposed unpopular cuts to schools and healthcare, drawing the ire of unions as well as residents throughout the state who fear local taxes will go up.
 

How he can overcome it: Taking on lawmakers may actually help Paterson, making it seem as if he’s being fiscally responsible at a time when resentment over government spending is high.
 

“Voters are angry and they want solutions,” said Evan Stavisky, a Democratic political consultant. “Reaching a budget deal and an ethics (reform) deal will take care of that.”
 

PUBLIC SUPPORT
 

What happened: The most recent Quinnipiac University poll has Paterson trailing Cuomo 55 to 23 percent, with only 33 percent saying they want the governor to run.
 

Why it hurts: The numbers generally don't lie: More people in the state clearly favor Cuomo.
 

How he can overcome it: The election is not until September and Cuomo's numbers will probably go down once he actually has to campaign and answer questions. Paterson will continue to press Cuomo to take positions on tough issues while portraying himself as focused on his job rather than politics.
 

Taneish Hamilton contributed to this story

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