Paterson is showing he has wisdom and guts
I had an on-air public radio conversation with Gov. David Paterson last week and it was a humdinger. He made news in that interview by telling us two things. The first was that he was seated next to President Bill Clinton at a Democratic affair. The former president told the New York governor that when he, Clinton, had been governor in Arkansas he had also faced a rough recession in which he had to balance his state’s budget. Clinton told Paterson that presidents had a lot more options than governors. We all know that presidents can borrow or print as much money as they need when they get into a tight spot while governors have to balance their budgets. It’s true, and it may be one reason why Obama’s poll numbers are so high while Paterson’s are so low.
There is another reason why public opinion is not favoring David Paterson. That, as I have written before, is because of the scurrilous Saturday Night Live portrayal of him as a blind, bumbling and clueless politician. This representation, sadly, has taken hold. After speaking with the man who I have interviewed so many times over the years, I remembered how bright the guy is. But he is no comedian. He knows that he has a tiger by the tail. I asked him about Saturday Night Live and, for the first time anywhere, he made some more news by telling me how much he was hurt by the program’s portrayal. He was reminded of his reaction as a young child in the playground when he was unfairly taunted and bullied because he was blind.
Paterson is an excellent speaker. He is anything but the bumbler portrayed on SNL. He was among the first to warn us how dire things would get before the economy turned around. At first he got points for what he was telling us but he later found himself in the vortex of the storm, not unlike Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz.” Obviously, he is having great trouble with the unions. He knows that the labor groups have unbelievable clout with both Democratic houses of the Legislature. He also knows that he has to balance the budget. The civil service union leaders have made it clear that they are not in the mood to compromise. Additionally, Paterson has to excise something called the STAR (School Tax Relief) program which was designed to help alleviate property and school taxes. To get over his almost $17 billion (with a b) imbalance, Paterson has had to make some very tough decisions. Remember that if you were governor, you’d have to do the same thing. Of course the left cries “soak the rich” but Paterson held out on that until the last minute because he knew that there would be a wealth drain out of the state. People will move in order to avoid taxes. He told me that he had no choice but to go along with that one.
Paterson also has a problem with his staff. When Saturday Night Live took their shots, Paterson’s staff advised him to just laugh the whole thing off. That was the wrong way to go. The damage was too severe. It took him until now to remind all of us how unfair the bullying was. Anyone who has ever been on the receiving end of a bully’s taunt can relate to what he was feeling. For some reason, Paterson was not getting around enough. Now he is all over the state on all kinds of radio and television programs doing long form interviews. The governor is finally getting it right. When you actually hear him for yourself, the SNL persona disappears and the governor’s wisdom and basic decency shows. The more he gets out and tells the simple truth as he sees it, the better off he is.
Waiting in the wings is Andrew Cuomo. The word on the street is that the senior Democrats have given Paterson a timetable to pull out of his tailspin. Based on what I saw and heard last week, I think he has what it takes to ward off the Cuomo onslaught. The man has wisdom and guts. It’s just too bad it has taken so long for people to see it.
Originally Published in the Legislative Gazette, 4/17/09