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Amazingly Unqualified – David Paterson

From a two year old article in The New York Observer:

Spitzer’s Mate David Paterson Is Mystery Man

by Ben Smith  |  February 12, 2006

State Senator David Paterson’s bid to be Eliot Spitzer’s candidate for Lieutenant Governor and campaign-trail partner was launched last month in a flurry of confusion and political intrigue. It stunned his Harlem-based world, and left him for a few days opposed by a candidate who had been endorsed by his wife and father. And when things settled down, Mr. Paterson unsettled some of Mr. Spitzer’s supporters with a public promise of a “Paterson-Spitzer administration.”

Those who follow the Harlem Senator’s career were not surprised.

Mr. Spitzer selected a man described as “a living contradiction” by one longtime associate. Indeed, Mr. Paterson’s 20 years in public life have been characterized by an array of contradictions, some of them openly stated, many irreconcilable. He’s a maverick champion of the younger generation whose Senate seat was handed to him, via a special election, by top Harlem Democrats allied with his powerful father, Basil Paterson. He’s a self-described reformer who spent nearly two decades in a comfortable political sinecure before launching a reform campaign as Senate Minority Leader.

The contradictions extend to his official biography: for years it stated, falsely, that he had been born and raised in Harlem, and it offered a shifting description of his legal career. His stance on a defining issue, the death penalty, is nuanced to the point of contradiction.

Mr. Paterson’s gifts—penetrating intelligence, an immediate human connection and an inspiring story of overcoming near-total blindness—make him a natural running mate for the stiffer, privileged, decisive Mr. Spitzer. But the chaos that has followed him through public life makes him a natural choice in another way. Mr. Spitzer has a strong stomach for risk, and Mr. Spitzer’s campaign, according to Mr. Paterson, engaged in no real vetting of its lieutenant-governor candidate—a man who brings to the campaign a complicated relationship with the truth and a difficulty in saying no

“The 32-year-old Democratic Liberal who entered the legislature last year, grew up in the district”—centered in Harlem—“and has a long history of work in the community,” reads his entry in the Red Book, the official directory of state government. The Senator’s official biographies through 1992 echo that statement, the last describing him as “a life-long resident of this district.”

Mr. Paterson does have deep Harlem roots. His father and his friends—Charles Rangel, David Dinkins and Percy Sutton—have long dominated Harlem politics, and the elder Mr. Paterson once served the same Harlem district, and ran unsuccessfully for Lieutenant Governor in 1970. But David Paterson was born at St. John’s Hospital in Brooklyn, and when he reached kindergarten age, his parents chose to send him to school in Hempstead, Long Island— the only one, the younger Mr. Paterson said, that would educate a nearly blind boy with the other children.

Mr. Paterson said he’d never read the official biography, which would typically be prepared by a Senator and staff. And he said he didn’t know who prepared it. But he said he’d never distorted his own story.

“I’ve read that myself, and no matter how many times I say I didn’t grow up in Harlem, I read, ‘David Paterson, lifelong Harlem resident.’” If that claim was in his official biography, “then we helped it along,” he said with a shrug.

Mr. Paterson won his seat in a special election to fill the place of a Senator who died in office. His father and other Harlem power brokers gave him the Democratic Party line in that election, ensuring his victory. Mr. Paterson also got the endorsement of The New York Times that year.

“David Paterson, a Democrat, has gained varied governmental experience as an Assistant District Attorney in Queens …. Soft-spoken and thoughtful, he seems most likely to make an immediate contribution to the district and the Senate,” the paper’s editors wrote.

The next day, a correction ran: Mr. Paterson “should have been described … as a criminal law associate for the Queens District Attorney,” the correction read.

Fresh out of Hofstra Law School, Mr. Paterson was hired by the Queens D.A.’s office before the results of his bar exam were in. In that capacity, lawyers can perform almost all the same duties as assistant district attorneys, including appearing in court on the people’s behalf.

But Mr. Paterson had a hard time with the bar. By his account, he ran out of time and found the accommodation made for his vision—an amanuensis read him the questions and transcribed his answers—inadequate…

Mr. Paterson said that he’d intended to return to take the bar, but his election to the Senate and subsequent appointment to a deputy leadership post consumed his time.

In his first year in the Senate, his official biography omitted all reference to his legal career. But the Red Books dated 1989 to 1992 describe him as an “assistant district attorney.”

The Red Book in 1993 seems to correct the record: “He was a criminal investigator for the Queens District Attorney from 1983-1985. Though not admitted to practice law in New York State, he tried criminal court cases as a member of the District Attorney’s Forensic bureau,” it says. Later books return to referring to the Senator as an assistant district attorney.

“When he learned of these things, he corrected any ambiguity,” said Mr. Spitzer’s campaign manager, Ryan Toohey.

“It was later determined that I could use that title, because that’s what I was acting as,” Mr. Paterson said. The terminology appears to differ office to office. A spokesman for the Queens District Attorney’s office said that “when it comes to actual job titles,” what Mr. Paterson did is considered “a criminal-law associate.” But an aide to Mr. Paterson pointed out that people in Mr. Paterson’s position describe themselves to the court as assistant district attorneys, entering the title on the public record…

In 2002… Mr. Paterson shot to unusual prominence for a Senate Democrat. With two other Manhattan legislators, Eric Schneiderman and Liz Krueger, he staged a coup that ousted the sitting Senate Minority Leader, Martin Connor. The Manhattanites saw Mr. Connor, of Brooklyn, as overly resigned to Republican control of the body. They wanted to fight more actively to retake it.

Rumors of a coup surfaced immediately after the 2002 election, prompting Mr. Connor to demand that Mr. Paterson make his position public. On Nov. 8 of that year, Mr. Paterson issued a statement that he was not seeking Mr. Connor’s job. Five days later, he stood flanked by 14 other Democratic Senators, declaring that he had the support he needed to take Mr. Connor’s job

[O]n the crucial area of the death penalty, Mr. Paterson’s stance is even more complex. He has been described in the press recently as disagreeing with Mr. Spitzer, who supports the death penalty. “I think that the human life and why it exists is something we don’t understand, so to cut it off—I just get the feeling it’s out of our realm as other human beings,” he said. He’s also said that he sheds no tears for executed cop killers, for example…

In a 2002 interview on WROW-AM radio, however, he seemed to say that his opposition to the death penalty was linked to how it is enforced, not to spiritual principle. As a member of a jury, he implied, he would vote for the death penalty.

“So what is it that you’re opposed to?” the host, Fred Dicker, asked.

“Oh, I’m opposed to the distribution of the death penalty,” Mr. Paterson said. “I don’t think a person should or should not get the death penalty based on their ability to afford counsel …. I think if you’re going to have something as serious in terms of its moral and legal ramifications as the death penalty, it has to be administered scrupulously, and I don’t think we do in this country.”

Mr. Paterson may not, in fact, have stood on two sides of the issue. But he certainly stood close to each side. It’s a pattern that is, among his friends on the local political scene, almost a joke: In races from Surrogate Court to President of the United States, different candidates have felt—from his warmth, his encouragement—that they had his endorsement, and then felt betrayed when he turned up beside a rival…

A Big Risk?

To some in Albany, it was an astonishing risk. “Eliot sees the public David, the press-spin David,” said one Democrat. “He doesn’t know him like we do.”

But Mr. Paterson said yes, and the deal was done. There was none of the formal process that accompanies a Vice Presidential nomination or even a staff hire—no vetting, Mr. Paterson said.

“When he asked me, on my own I did opposition research on myself and sent it to him,” the Senator said and proceeded to give a nine-minute summary of two lawsuits by former employees against the Senate in his tenure. Both cases are pending, and Mr. Paterson offered them unprompted. It’s a tendency that has astonished reporters. Not long ago, he volunteered to a reporter that he had underpaid his income taxes. “Give him points for honesty,” Daily News columnist Bill Hammond remarked.

Mr. Paterson also has a reputation for not keeping a tight rein on his small district-office staff or on the 104 staffers he directly oversees in the Senate minority. When one $31,500 part-time receptionist turned up in the Charlotte Observer answering questions about skin-care products, Mr. Paterson said that the man was no longer on staff. In fact, the employee isn’t set to depart until the end of this month

So Mr. Paterson was not vetted. Not even a little. And he has a “complicated relationship with the truth.”

And he has been given his jobs all through his career because of his connections and pigmentation.

But soon he will be the governor of a state that is about the equal of France.

Zut alors!

This article was posted by Steve on Wednesday, March 12th, 2008. Comments are currently closed.

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