Richard Ravitch speaks as Gov. David A. Paterson look on...

Richard Ravitch speaks as Gov. David A. Paterson look on during a news conference in NYC on Dec. 4, 2008. Credit: AP

Chances grow by the day that before the shouting is over, Lt. Gov. Richard Ravitch will become governor.

If that happens, executive power in New York State will have drifted remarkably far from the hands of the electorate.

Ravitch, 76, is in line to succeed besieged Democratic Gov. David A. Paterson - for the sole reason that Paterson himself selected him.

Paterson was elected in 2006, of course - but as a lieutenant governor running in tandem with subsequently disgraced Gov. Eliot Spitzer.

Now, at a moment of voter unease, the Democratic Party seems strained and stretched thin - even as it holds all major elected positions in New York.

The state party gained enough of a registration advantage in recent years to rout Republicans from what were once GOP strongholds.

But enrollment is one thing, governance another. If and when Gov. Ravitch - for whom not a single voter has voted - takes office, he could presumably appoint another person as his lieutenant governor. That person wouldn't even be appointed by an elected official.

And Paterson got to make Ravitch his successor because of a court ruling led by another Paterson appointee - Jonathan Lippman, the chief judge of the state's highest court.

Lippman's Court of Appeals overturned all lower-court decisions. Before it ruled 4-3 to accept Paterson's arguments, the law was long assumed to say that in the absence of a lieutenant governor, the successor would be the State Senate's temporary president.

When Paterson tapped Ravitch, the Senate leadership was in dispute - making this decision seem like a pragmatic move to resolve a crisis. Otherwise, a succession struggle could have ensued between Malcolm Smith (D-Queens), tied to a nonprofit currently under investigation, and Pedro Espada (D-Bronx), who's tied to a nonprofit currently and formerly under investigation.

Chances of multiple Democratic primaries galvanizing the rebellious voices of voters and heightening participation next September appear slim.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand - also selected solely by Paterson - has so far seen all primary challengers but Jonathan Tasini drop out.

By quitting the race last week, Paterson seemed to leave a clear path to nomination for the man investigating him, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.

Senior Sen. Charles Schumer, a Democrat and Gillibrand's closest ally, seems to have less reason to fear an internal Democratic contest except for declared maverick candidate Randy Credico.

Cuomo and Schumer were elected to their current posts. Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli was appointed by the Legislature - to succeed disgraced Democrat Alan Hevesi - but so far has no declared primary rivals either. The only statewide primary now brewing is for attorney general.

Given the state's bipartisan history, you'd ordinarily expect at least one statewide seat or power base to return to Republican hands in the fall. Episodes such as senior Democratic Rep. Charles Rangel's being forced to surrender the powerful Ways and Means Committee chairmanship could help the GOP connect the multiple dots of Democrats' scandals.

The state may thus return from questionable one-party dominance to, well, questionable two-party dominance.

For fans of democracy (small d) and the republic (small r), Election Day might not come soon enough - if only to test New York's current one-and-a-half-party system.