How Will Paterson Pick Up N.Y. Governor's Office?

A day after New York Gov. Elliot Spitzer's resignation, the state's new governor takes the stage. David Paterson will have to pick up the pieces after the Spitzer scandal.

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In Albany, New York today, a packed room waited to hear the man who rose to power after Democratic governor Eliot Spitzer's dramatic fall. Lieutenant Governor David Paterson, who becomes governor of New York on Monday addressed a news conference at the state capitol.

NPR's Margot Adler reports.

MARGOT ADLER: David Paterson, showed in seconds how different he is from his predecessor. Noting the room packed with Albany insiders, he said.

Mr. DAVID PATERSON (Lieutenant Governor, New York): If most of you weren't being paid, I'd be flattered by that.

(Soundbite of people laughing)

ADLER: He spoke of his deep friendship with Eliot Spitzer and his closeness to Spitzer's parents.

Mr. PATERSON: We used to call them our other family. I did not get to this position in the way that most people have and in the way that most people would want.

ADLER: Paterson said the law had to take its course but that he personally felt Spitzer had been punished enough, but his main purpose was to reassure New Yorkers that he would hold the reins of government securely.

Mr. PATERSON: There may be a five-day transition period but we are hard at work at this moment putting together a budget that will help New York to thrive.

ADLER: His meeting this weekend with Republicans and Democrats, with the controller and the state attorney general, and working on a budget that must be passed by the end of the month. Paterson has a record as a liberal but he acknowledged how hard it would be given the state's $4.7 billion budget deficit to do certain things. Then he was asked about being the first black governor of New York and the first legally blind governor.

PATERSON: Seventy-one percent of the blind are unemployed, 90 percent of deaf people in this country are unemployed - maybe one of them could figure out a cure for cancer. So to whatever extent my presence impresses upon employers or impresses upon younger people who are like me in either way then I would feel very privileged, very proud and very flattered to be in this position.

ADLER: Paterson's task is huge but his style will help bridge differences.

Margot Adler, NPR News, New York.

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Paterson Cheered by Both Parties in N.Y.

David Paterson i i

hide captionNew York Lt. Gov. David Paterson (right) once said Gov. Eliot Spitzer "touches that part of me that wants to take chances and wants to make things happen and make them happen quickly."

Courtesy New York State Governor's Office
David Paterson

New York Lt. Gov. David Paterson (right) once said Gov. Eliot Spitzer "touches that part of me that wants to take chances and wants to make things happen and make them happen quickly."

Courtesy New York State Governor's Office
Paterson getting sworn in as lieutenant governor. i i

hide captionPaterson gets sworn in as New York state's lieutenant governor in 2007.

Courtesy New York State Governor's Office
Paterson getting sworn in as lieutenant governor.

Paterson gets sworn in as New York state's lieutenant governor in 2007.

Courtesy New York State Governor's Office

New York Lt. Gov. David Paterson will become the state's first African-American governor and only the third black governor in the U.S. since Reconstruction on Monday. Paterson ascends to the post after fellow Democrat Eliot Spitzer resigned on Wednesday amid allegations that he is involved in a high-end prostitution ring.

Paterson is said to be a man who speaks his mind but gets along well with and is well-respected by politicians on both sides of the aisle. This is quite a change from a governor who made enemies among both parties.

Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch called him humble.

"There is a humility quality which is very endearing. He is a good listener, and I believe that he will be a very competent governor," Koch says.

Political Pedigree

Paterson is the son of Basil Paterson, a former minority leader in the state Senate. Like his father, the younger Paterson was also a state senator — starting in the mid-'80s — and became the Senate minority leader in 2002. He was elected New York's lieutenant governor in 2006.

Currently, the New York state Senate has a one-vote Republican majority, and the Democrats could seize control in November. Many observers predicted that Paterson would have become the powerful Senate majority leader had he stayed, so some were surprised that he took the job of lieutenant governor.

And there were tensions between him and Spitzer — which he handled with humor. In a story by Albany reporter Karen DeWitt not long after he became lieutenant governor, Paterson joked that he was determined not to be an afterthought.

"The previous job of lieutenant governor is to wake up very early in the morning and call the governor's private line. And if he answers, you can go back to sleep — your work is done for the day," Paterson said.

Paterson, who lives with his family in Harlem, is completely blind in one eye; in the other, he can see people only up close. He doesn't use a cane or guide dog.

He's also steeped in literature. He has been known to quote Dostoyevsky at press briefings.

Statehouse Reaction

Comments Paterson made about Spitzer not long after they took office in 2007 seem stunning in light of Wednesday's events, when his boss resigned, effective Monday.

"He is not afraid of risk. It is part of him. It is a part of his nomenclature, and it is part of his conduct, and that is what I love him for," Paterson said. "I am one who is a little more risk-averse than Eliot but find that he touches that part of me that wants to take chances and wants to make things happen and make them happen quickly."

But it is exactly this modesty and ability to listen that sets Paterson very much apart from Spitzer, and many in Albany should find it a relief.

"I think David is intellectually gifted, and I think his personality reaches out to others in a different way," says Sheldon Silver, the Democratic leader of the New York State Assembly.

Even Republicans like Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno — Spitzer's archrival — have had cordial relations with Paterson.

"We partnered on a number of things, and we have an excellent relationship," Bruno says.

So there may be more bipartisanship in a Paterson administration.

But here's a conundrum: the New York Constitution says if the governor is out of the state, the lieutenant governor takes over. If there is no lieutenant governor — which there won't be when Paterson becomes governor — than whenever the governor leaves the state, power goes to the next in line. That's Bruno.

So when Paterson becomes governor, he could find Democrats insisting that he never leave the state.

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