Getting between a politician and his child can be dangerous
Father’s Day is upon us and my advice to you is: don’t get in the way of politicians and their offspring. Look at it this way. Those of us who have children only want the best for them. We raised them and we will always worry about them, no matter how old they are. We recognize their faults and wonder if they might have been avoided had we been better parents.
I am incredibly proud of my children, Jonas and Sarah. Jonas is the executive director of the State University of New York Charter Schools Institute. It is an important and demanding job. Jonas’ institute is responsible, among other things, for authorizing and closing down many of the state’s charter schools so you can imagine what a pressure cooker it is. We speak often, though we don’t always agree. Nevertheless, let some opportunistic politicians get on Jonas’ case and you had better believe I am not a happy camper. My daughter Sarah is a political science professor at The College of New Jersey and pretty much out of the firing line, so I don’t have to feel quite as protective of her.
I have been on the other side of this, too, and know from hard personal experience what it’s like. At one point, I made known my preference (along with most New Yorkers) for H. Carl McCall, the then-comptroller, to get the Democratic nomination to run against George Pataki for governor. I had a long professional relationship with the then-governor, Mario Cuomo, which came to a screaming halt over that choice. Cuomo felt personally betrayed and that I had mistreated him and his son, Andrew. I completely understood that but hey, as Andrew once told me, “It is what it is,” or “You gotta do what you gotta do.”
Now Basil Paterson is being accused by the New York Post of being too close to his son. The Post, never letting truth get in the way of its political agenda, is trying to make the case that since Governor David Paterson speaks to his distinguished, 85-year-old father every day and since his father is a major political rainmaker in New York who represents major labor unions in the state, David is in conflict of interest.
Well, as Mario used to say to me, “Oh really?” One has only to turn on the television or pick up the papers to witness labor’s fierce onslaught against David Paterson by the state’s civil service unions. Frankly, I have never seen anything like it. The name calling is quite astounding. They are fighting for their members and their lives and you can’t blame them. But they have not targeted Paterson because he is their friend or because he is their lap dog. If he is taking pro-labor orders from his dad, it is incomprehensible that he would be the subject of these attacks. If there is one thing the Post doesn’t seem to like, it is labor unions. Again, why let the facts get in the way of their attacks on Paterson the younger?
I once had a young teaching assistant who asked to meet Governor Cuomo. I took her with me to a taping of our weekly radio show and she and the governor had a conversation. The governor asked her what she did and she responded that she was a teaching assistant in the SUNY at Albany communication department. The governor noted that his daughter was in that department and my assistant responded that she knew that and, in fact, had thrown her out of class for talking. I immediately heard from several people on the governor’s staff that he liked me but that my assistant was persona non grata from that time on. When a father sees his children attacked unfairly you had better believe that certain ingrained instincts kick in. Remember that scene in “Bambi,” the Disney movie, when the father comes to help his son in the great fire?
It would seem to be an immutable law of politics that picking on a politician is fair game but getting between the politician and his or her offspring is a no-no. I’m not a politician but I can certainly understand that. People who mess with a father’s children should know the risk.
Originally Published in the Legislative Gazette, 5/29/09