Paterson made it easy for the bullies

The other day, a friend of mine asked me what Bill Clinton, Eliot Spitzer, Tiger Woods and David Paterson all had in common. We all know the answer, but we can’t say it in a family newspaper. These are all bright men with incredible gifts. They all have fine minds and, at least the ones I know personally, quite extraordinary personalities. I really like Eliot Spitzer and David Paterson. I’ve never met Bill Clinton but I’m pretty sure that I would like him, too. I certainly think his performance as president, minus the whole Monica Lewinsky affair, was brilliant.

So, what makes these men behave badly? What makes David Paterson, well, David Paterson? It’s all about character. It’s all about a little boy with sight problems being protected in an esteemed political family. Let’s face it — he was dependent on people who really cared about him and that, as Freud would have told you, became part of his character. You learn to depend on and lean on those who are your primary care givers. The danger, of course, is that if the character of those around you is questionable, you’ve got real trouble. Paterson depended on Charles O’Byrne who had to leave office because he didn’t pay his taxes (“non-filer’s syndrome”) and now a man named David Johnson, who turns out to be in big trouble.

In Paterson’s case, this dependent need is exacerbated by semi-isolation from others who are not primary care givers. I have been told by people in a position to know that many of his top commissioners and agency heads were given little, if any, face time. Thus, the ones he did trust were given extraordinary power and one such man was David Johnson, who allegedly physically attacked a Bronx woman. In a stunning and incredibly stupid move, the governor actually called the woman. Some are painting that as an effort by Paterson to get his top advisor, Johnson, off the hook. The same woman was also visited by a member of the governor’s state police detail, officers who are charged with protecting the governor. Eyebrows were raised because allegations of assault are handled by the New York City Police Department who have jurisdiction in these matters. This whole thing brings to mind the Eliot Spitzer mess over what is called “Troopergate.”

Paterson has now changed his mind and announced that he will not be running for a full term. That leaves the field clear for Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. If other shoes drop and Paterson has to resign, that will make Richard Ravitch, an old political war horse, the next unelected governor. No matter what happens, there will be hell to pay in the coming state budget process. A weakened governor will be in no position to negotiate with the often greedy and venal legislature. On the other hand, the Legislature may now have to step up and do what’s right as opposed to what’s political. The state is broke. The legislative leaders can’t pretend that it isn’t and the Democratic chiefs in both houses know that they will be held accountable for not dealing with the state’s serious problems. If they don’t, they risk losing control to the Republicans and losing out in the coming redistricting process.

As for Paterson, the guy who said he was lonely in the school yard as a child, it is hard for me not to feel sorry for the man. The establishment wanted him out and now they’ve got what they wanted. Some of these people are bullies of the first order and they have had their way. Even the president of the United States told Paterson not to run. These recent events will strengthen Chuck Schumer, Andrew Cuomo and especially Kirsten Gillibrand who was appointed by Paterson. Gillibrand is seen as the person with the toughest election and ironically, she will benefit if a more popular Democrat heads the ticket.

However, with all of that said, Paterson must bear the primary responsibility. The bullies may have been out to get him but that would have been much harder had he not relied on a man he should never have trusted and helped to protect. By the time he suspended Johnson without pay, it was way too late.

Originally Published in the Legislative Gazette, 3/1/10

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2 Comments on “Paterson made it easy for the bullies”

  1. Kay Abraham Says:

    Alan, Alan,
    How many weeks will it be before you give up on your rant about being denied a primary and your consistently negative attitude towards KIrsten Gillibrand? I understand how you feel that a primary is the expression of democracy, but so is political calculation and manuvering to put the best candidate up without a nasty struggle. By harping on the lack of a primary as the WORST EVIL you are beginning to remind me of purer-than-thou Nader. Nobody else is beating that dead horse except you. Would you really want Ford as a senator from NY? Do you think Patterson could have beaten any credible Rrepublican? It’s going to be Coumo and Gillibrand. They will be good candidates. Kirsten’s voting record can’t be beat on any of hte issues you care about. Time to stop carping.

  2. Kostya Says:

    When we say David Paterson was unelected or label him “accidental.” we are technically wrong. Lieutenant governors and vice presidents are elected primarily to do just what Paterson did, take over if the governor resigns or cannot otherwise perform his duties. There is nothing unelected or accidental about it. (Though we do enjoy the snarky use of the adjective “accidental.”)

    It is with great sadness I look at what is happening to David Paterson. I remember the incident Jim Dwyer writes about in the NYT today: If you visit the Harlem park Paterson helped push politicians to build you will see an example of how government works best when it accommodates the many and the few.

    If he has to go, I hope he takes some time off, then returns to his political roots and continues what he started a long time ago.

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