WXXI Local Stories
Mon December 29, 2008
A Look Back at Paterson's First Nine Months in Offfice
By Karen DeWitt
Albany, New York – In 2008 David Paterson became New York's first disabled and legally blind governor. He was elevated from Lieutenant Governor to the state's chief executive, in the wake of a spectacular fall from grace by Eliot Spitzer in March. Spitzer, who had won office with 70% of the popular vote, admitted to hiring high priced prostitutes and resigned, just a little over a year into his term.
Five days later, on March 17th, Paterson was cheered by shell shocked lawmakers at the Capitol as he took his oath of office.
"Let me reintroduce myself," Paterson said, to wild applause. "I am David Paterson and I am the Governor of New York State."
After an initial spate of headlines about the new governor's own personal life, he conceded that he had had affairs while married, Paterson went on to shepherd the state budget into passage almost on time, something considered a major feat in a state where the budget was once late for 20 years in a row.
Since then, Paterson, as well as the rest of the state and the nation, has been consumed by fiscal matters as the economy plummeted and Wall Street imploded. As early as his inaugural address, Paterson seemed prescient in his foretelling of the dire financial woes that were to come. At a National Press Club speech in the summer, he told the audience that the nation was headed for a depression. Many thought he was exaggerating. In July, he took to the airwaves to tell New Yorker's of the growing fiscal crisis.
"Our economic woes are so severe that I wanted to talk to you personally," Paterson said on the broadcast. "The fact is, we confront harsh times."
By August he had persuaded the legislature to cut $500 million dollars from the budget. In November, he tried again, in another special session, to trim the budget by another $2 billion dollars, but was rebuffed. Senate Republicans refused to act. Paterson's relationship with the GOP leader, Dean Skelos, was deteriorating as the financial situation worsened. The two squabbled during a meeting that was open to the public. At one point, Paterson held up a blank piece of paper and shook it at the Senate Leader.
"You've brought us nothing," the governor lectured.
Assembly Democrats also did not act to close the budget gap, saying there was no point if the Senate would not approve any legislation.
In December, Paterson issued an austere budget for next year, which aims to trim $8 billion dollars in education, health care, and other places, as well as raising billions of dollars with 137 new taxes and fees. As a result, Paterson offended nearly everyone with his proposals, including most of the major interest groups in the state, like hospitals and the teacher's unions.
Through out the growing fiscal troubles, Paterson has remained popular, with high approval ratings in the polls. Known for his intelligence and wit, the governor can often diffuse tense situations with his quick sense of humour. For instance, during the recent budget address full of grim news, he made reference to what he considered to be an unflattering portrayal of himself on Saturday Night Live.
"We can take control of this budget, and we can take over Saturday Night Live," Paterson said, to laughter.
The governor, who spent 20 years in the state senate, including several years as Democratic leader has many friends in the legislature, and among lobbyists.
But in the New Year Paterson is likely to see a challenge to his popularity and his powers to persuade. Previous governors, Spitzer, and former Governor George Pataki, also tried to cut spending and confronted groups like the health care industry. Both retreated under the pressure of negative television ad campaigns, and declining standing in the polls. Paterson has to hope that the public this time around will be more understanding about the state's financial situation. He wants to seek election to his current job in 2010.