Spitzer's Successor Has Few Enemies

By Alec MacGillis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 13, 2008

Replacing Eliot L. Spitzer, who rose to the governorship of New York after browbeating Wall Street titans, is David A. Paterson, a man so affable that the colleague he supplanted in an Albany coup now speaks of him in glowing terms.

"David is extremely intelligent, charming and witty and enjoys the goodwill of people in both parties," said state Sen. Martin Connor, a Manhattan Democrat whom Paterson knocked off as Senate minority leader in 2002. "He ran against me, and he beat me. But we remain friends. I've been helpful to him, and he's been helpful to me. We enjoy each other's company."

With Spitzer announcing his resignation amid a prostitution scandal, Paterson, 53, will become the country's third African American governor since Reconstruction, assuming control of the third-largest state in the country and a government that many say has been dysfunctional for years.

Under New York law, Paterson will fill out the remaining three years of Spitzer's term. Several prominent New Yorkers, including Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo (D) and New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I), are rumored to be considering running for governor in 2010. But Democrats predicted that Paterson will have enough time before then to establish himself as the incumbent favorite.

Though his ascension is sudden, Paterson, who is married and has two children, has had plenty of preparation. He was born in Brooklyn and raised in the thick of the Harlem political world. His father, Basil Paterson, served as state senator, deputy mayor and secretary of state and is allied with such Harlem heavyweights as Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D).

He graduated from Columbia University and Hofstra Law School and went to work for the Queens district attorney and David N. Dinkins's campaign for Manhattan borough president. In 1985, at age 31, he assumed a vacant Senate seat, representing his father's former district.

Given his abilities as a legislator, some in Albany, the state capital, were surprised in 2006 when he gave up his shot at leading Senate Democrats into the majority for the more ceremonial position of lieutenant governor. But his allies predict that he will handle his first executive role well. "He'll do fine. He's a veteran. He's been in the trenches for many, many years," said Assemblyman Keith L.T. Wright, a Harlem Democrat who has known Paterson since childhood.

As an infant, Paterson was declared legally blind, with minimal sight in only one eye, a disability that has not kept him from running a marathon and playing pickup basketball. "The impressive thing about him . . . is a constant striving to overcome his disability," said Eric Lane, who was one of his professors at Hofstra.

Paterson's family roots set him apart somewhat from other African American politicians on the rise who are viewed as part of a new post-civil-rights-era generation, such as Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), Massachusetts Gov. Deval L. Patrick (D) and Newark Mayor Cory A. Booker (D). Though he shares part of their reform agenda, Paterson represents a more traditional type of community-based urban leadership, say New York Democrats.

Like Spitzer, Paterson is supporting his state's junior senator, Hillary Rodham Clinton, for the Democratic presidential nomination. His politics are liberal, further left in several areas than Spitzer, who as a former attorney general emphasized criminal justice and who drew criticism for cutting back on the money allotted to New York City schools after a long-running court battle.

But Republicans in the legislature predicted yesterday that they will be able to work better with Paterson, given the relations he has cultivated over 20 years in Albany. "The state needs to heal, and I think he can do that," said state Sen. Martin J. Golden, a Brooklyn Republican. "The Assembly and Senate want to see him succeed. We're the laughingstock of the nation and need to get this state back on a firm footing."

It remains to be seen whether Paterson's history in Albany will keep him from picking up Spitzer's agenda of reforming the capital, where incumbents are protected from challenges and enormous power is invested in the governor and the heads of the two legislative chambers. Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf predicted that Paterson will press reforms, but in a more measured way. "He's going to show he can get things accomplished without leaving a lot of blood in the hallway," he said.

Staff writer Keith B. Richburg in New York contributed to this report.

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