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There's a diary on the rec list as I write this by betson08 on the news that Holy Crap: Obama asks Gov. Paterson to Withdraw from Race! It's a good post - but I thought I'd supplement it with my own perspective on the story.

As a long time resident of New York, my  opinion is the Byzantine politics of the state pretty much rule out anyone getting nominated for Lt. Governor who is actually qualified to BE Governor. The top person on the ticket simply does not want a potential rival who might use the position for political advantage. (That should tell you how collegial party politics are here.) Paterson has been fighting out of his weight class since day one. (more)

Both Hugh Leo Carey and George Elmer Pataki had Lt. Governors who stepped out of line - because they actually thought the job gave them some responsibility and authority. (2 points to anyone who can name them.) Both got kicked to the curb.

At the risk of telling a pretty crude joke, the ideal candidate for Lt. Governor in this state would be Helen Keller - because the powers that be would never have to worry about what she might see, hear, or say, and because she'd bring some 'balance' to the ticket. I'm phrasing it this bluntly because that's the level of cynical calculation we have here. I only need cite the Gang of 4 antics in the statesenate to illustrate this.

Granted, Paterson has more than exceeded expectations with the clumsy missteps he's made all along - but coming from the state senate where he was Democratic Minority Leader, that's not really a surprise. Being a successful minority leader in the Senate while the GOP held it was roughly equivalent to playing Colmes to Hannity. You just had to look good while getting slapped around. Paterson never had the advantage of a solid political base outside of his state senate district to govern from, or much regard from the legislature for anything beyond his ability to make the best of the few crumbs the Republicans would throw him.

I was never enthralled by Caroline Kennedy. However badly she was treated she never really made a case for herself. New York politics are not for the faint of heart and the demonstration of how easily she was trashed by people in the governor's office without an effective counter response was not a good omen for her future performance.

Gillibrand is the one who has taken a lot of unfair damage from all this. She's been the target of vicious GOP attacks ever since she first ran against the invidious John Sweeney - and beat him in a conservative rural district. The attacks have only redoubled since Gillibrand was appointed to fill Clinton's seat. (Gillibrand's replacement - Scott Murphy - kept the seat in Democratic hands after a tough election contest that dragged out for weeks with a recount.)

Gillibrand has been faced with a huge burden. Besides the constant GOP sniping, she's suddenly had to sell herself to the rest of the state without the benefit of a long campaign race to do it. She's also had to make the transition from representing a conservative rural district hand drawn to keep it in Republican hands (Hah!) to representing the entire state - including New York City and Long Island. She's had to adjust her policy positions to reflect her suddenly much bigger and more diverse constituency without appearing to be selling out her own principles. That she's managed to do it so far without any major missteps is a credit both to her integrity and her ability.

It has not helped that the common wisdom among many is that Chuck Schumer hand-picked her because he thought she'd be less a potential challenger to his pre-eminence than Kennedy. It also doesn't help that too many on the Democratic side are so angry about Kennedy that they've refused to give Gillibrand the time of day - which is self-defeating to put it bluntly.

Gillibrand is a very bright and energized person who has worked hard to do her job and earn her position. She's beaten off the worst the Republicans could throw at her so far, and is starting to build her own record of accomplishments. She's been active in touring the whole state to introduce herself, is the first person in the Senate to pay attention to NY's agricultural needs in a long time, and is an actual working mother as well as a Senator. She has the potential to be there a long time, and can't automatically be dismissed as another Senator for New York City.

If you're wondering about her character, she's one of a handful of Democrats who didn't immediately panic and rush to throw ACORN under the bus once the GOP started building on Beck's hissy fit. If a side effect of Paterson's ineptitude is to make her vulnerable, that's going to be a much bigger loss to the state and the country. We need people like Gillibrand with the potential to grow in office and sustain the Democratic agenda.

(Disclaimer: I phone-banked for Gillibrand when she first challenged John Sweeney. Although I didn't live in her district, I've followed her career since then and have continued to be impressed. I'm glad she is now in the Senate for New York State - and that Scott Murphy who replaced her looks to have a lot of promise of his own.)

Lets consider a few other things as well. Paterson and Gillibrand both ended up where they are because of an epic fail by Eliot Spitzer, and it should be remembered how that happened. Spitzer had a reputation as a pull-no-punches Attorney General who was not afraid to take on Wall Street. (There are some questions about how solid that reputation actually was, but no matter.) On the strength of it, he ran for governor and took office with expectations he would finally get the legislature and the state government sorted out.

It didn't happen. Between hubris and an "all stick, no carrot" approach, Spitzer isolated himself politically and was all the more vulnerable when his personal shortcomings became public - thanks to an assist fromJoe Bruno and Roger Stone. That Bruno did not survive either is small comfort - the state government is still a mess.

We now have Andrew Cuomo looking more and more like the anointed gubernatorial candidate. Like Kennedy, he has a powerful name in Democratic politics. Like Spitzer he's building a reputation as a hard hitting Attorney General. (Given all the soft targets and low hanging fruit in New York, that's not exactly hard to do.) Unfortunately, like Spitzer he also has a reputation as someone who can be very abrasive - and it remains to be seen if he can cope any more effectively with the legislature than Paterson. A lot of that will depend on A) what happens with the state economy and budget, B) whether or not the Democrats can strengthen their grip on the senate, and C) how many incumbents - and which - get thrown out of the legislature by the voters in 2010.

It will also turn on how well the President is doing nationally. If the Democrats let health care reform get trashed or corrupted, if the Democrats let the Republicans keep controlling the media narrative and the political agenda, if the Beckian tea baggers drown out the voices of sanity, could be some interesting times ahead.

Bottom line: if Paterson does bow out, it's probably a good thing - but there's still a lot of work to be done.

Originally posted to xaxnar on Sun Sep 20, 2009 at 06:48 AM PDT.



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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (10+ / 0-)

    How about some tips for Change We Can Believe In - And Actually See Happening!

    "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

    by xaxnar on Sun Sep 20, 2009 at 06:44:53 AM PDT

  •  my aside on this (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    The NYT has no credibility on this issue, with its own almost sordid past in terms of not supporting Black candidates in NYS. No Democrat in recent NYS history tried to coddle the Republicans as much as Paterson did. The idea he can be criticized from the Right is laughable.

  •  We need to reform Dem politics in NY (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    am, xaxnar

    Machine politics have destroyed the Democratic party here. They favor the next in line and who's most loyal to the machine. If you want to see an example of how machine politics works, attend a meeting of the Democratic County Committee in NYC. Committee members have no voice at all, they are simply there to rubber stamp decisions made by the Party bosses.

  •  Besty McCaughey Ross (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    xaxnar, esquimaux

    she was Lt. Gov. and she certainly stepped out of line when she tried "dancing" up Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn at a West Indian Labor Day parade.

  •  Did you have to go there... (0+ / 0-)

    with the Helen Keller joke? It's
    very offensive since Patterson is blind.

    •  I knew the risk (0+ / 0-)

      But I was not trying to disparage visually handicapped people or handicapped people of any persuasion. The point I was trying to make is that Lt. Governors get picked in part for their lack of ability which would otherwise make them potential rivals to the governor. The Lt. Governor's job is in large part to never see, hear or say anything that would embarrass the Governor

      I used Helen Keller as an example because from that regard she's overqualified for the job by the nasty political calculations made here on a routine basis. If the reference is ugly, I used it because I'm trying to explain an ugly situation in a way that makes it plain. I agree it is distasteful, but I've been using it to make that point about the whole situation long before Paterson was Lt. Governor.

      Paterson's handicap as far as I know has not been a factor in his performance or his approval ratings; in fact if anything his race seems to be what catches most people up these days. On Meet the Press this morning, I heard the host asking essentially what's up with a black President telling a black Governor to step aside for a white man? I don't even want to go there.

      I suppose I could replace Keller with Rachel Alexandra in the joke for the same reasons cited, with the added bonus that it would probably be easier to clean up after her than the average Albany politician - and it wouldn't be anything we don't already get a lot of from them already. The problem is, Alexandra wouldn't get picked because she'd probably  be far more popular than most of the candidates running for Governor. Plus, having an entire horse in office rather than the part we all too often end up with is a precedent no politician would want to set.

      "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

      by xaxnar on Sun Sep 20, 2009 at 08:34:09 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Paterson's selection seemed pretty interesting (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    at the time, he wasn't even running for Lt. Gov -- there was a primary race gearing up between Assemblyman Thomas DiNapoli - now NYS Comptroller, Wappinger Town supervisor Joe Ruggiero - now NYS Assistant Comptroller, Dr. Jon Cohen and Leecia Eve, from Hillary Clinton's staff. All dropped out as soon as Spitzer made his choice. At the time it did seem that he would be a good, and somewhat qualified choice -- if you think 20 years in Albany was the kind of experience you would want in your elected officials. I would hope that it will from now on be considered a negative.

    Speaking of primaries, any word about Tom Suozzi?

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