Saturday, March 15, 2008

Making History By Design & Not Accident: Meet David Paterson The First Black & Blind Governor of New York State...

Photos Courtesy of The New York Times

Reaching Out, Paterson Offers Different Tone

With sorrow, seriousness and a dollop of humor, Lt. Gov. David A. Paterson opened his first full day as governor-in-waiting Thursday, pledging his continued commitment to Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s agenda but breaking markedly with the governor’s style.

In a flurry of meetings with legislative leaders, news conferences and briefings, Mr. Paterson began quickly laying the groundwork for when he is formally sworn in as governor on Monday.

At a news conference in Albany, he said he would try to govern through consensus and declined to rule out an income tax increase, and then took questions from an overflow crowd of reporters.

And when asked whether he, like Mr. Spitzer, had ever patronized a prostitute, Mr. Paterson could not suppress his trademark dagger wit.

He paused, gave a sly smile, and answered, “Only the lobbyists.”

The tone Mr. Paterson set in his appearances was the most marked shift from Mr. Spitzer, who favored stern and high-flying oratory over self-deprecating humor.

“I kind of feel like the student who’s getting ready for the final exam but they didn’t attend any classes,” Mr. Paterson conceded Thursday morning in an interview broadcast from the Capitol on radio station WGDJ.

In his remarks to reporters, Mr. Paterson signaled that he would remain committed to most of Mr. Spitzer’s priorities, including the broad outlines of the governor’s budget plan, a push for more restrictions on campaign donations, and a $1 billion public investment fund to invigorate the upstate economy.

“I promised the governor yesterday that I would commit myself to the people of this great state, that we would have stability and continuity in those challenges that lie ahead,” said Mr. Paterson, a Democrat, at the news conference.

Unlike Mr. Spitzer, Mr. Paterson, who has favored tax increases on the wealthy in the past, did not rule out raising taxes to balance the budget for the next fiscal year, which begins April 1. The Assembly is pushing for a measure that would increase taxes on those earning more than $1 million to 7.7 percent from 6.85 percent.

Briefly addressing Mr. Spitzer’s future, Mr. Paterson, 53, said he considers the governor a close friend, adding, “In my heart I feel he has suffered enough.” He acknowledged that some people might feel that prosecutors should pursue criminal charges against Mr. Spitzer.

“That is why we have dispassionate law enforcement that looks into these situations,” he said. “We should leave it in their hands, and support them, which I do.”

In ways large and small, Mr. Spitzer’s presence at the Capitol had already begun to fade. His belongings were being packed into boxes and his office desk cleared of the family photos that once adorned it.

Christine Anderson, a spokeswoman for the governor’s office, said the staff of the executive chamber had already started to take bills to Mr. Paterson that had been awaiting Mr. Spitzer’s signature.

Mr. Paterson kept up a hectic pace of meetings with his future partners in government, including Joseph L. Bruno, the Senate majority leader, and Sheldon Silver, the Assembly speaker. Mr. Paterson consulted with the state comptroller, Thomas P. DiNapoli, on Wednesday. Mr. DiNapoli has said his office is auditing Mr. Spitzer’s travel records to determine whether he spent state money in arranging or traveling to his liaisons with prostitutes.

It was his wish to give himself time to become acclimated, Mr. Paterson said, that led him to ask Mr. Spitzer to hold off formally resigning until Monday.

“I wanted to spend today not being sworn in, or speaking, or in any way celebrating,” he said. “I wanted to come in here, meet with the legislative leaders, get back to work on some of those points where I need to be updated on where the budget process is now — do that for a few days.”

On Thursday morning, Mr. Paterson met with Mr. Spitzer’s staff members, in part to assure aides that the transition between administrations would be smooth and that there would be no wholesale housecleaning of the executive chamber.

Mr. Paterson also spoke with Mr. Spitzer on Thursday, Ms. Anderson said, and is likely to do so often as the transition progresses. Mr. Spitzer will have no formal role in Mr. Paterson’s administration, however, and is not expected to exercise his powers as governor or appear in Albany, she said.

Mr. Paterson acknowledged in his radio appearance Thursday morning that as lieutenant governor, he had not been closely involved in formulating Mr. Spitzer’s budget plan. Later in the day, he said he planned to meet all weekend with agency heads and budget officials to prepare better for the budget negotiations.

The Assembly and the Senate are already moving ahead with their own budget deliberations, and hope to have a final spending plan approved by March 31. Assemblyman Herman D. Farrell Jr., the Manhattan Democrat who heads the Assembly Budget Committee, said the Senate and the Assembly just passed their modifications to the governor’s budget plan. Meetings to iron out a compromise are to begin on Monday.

As he turns his attention to the budget, aides said the incoming governor would retain key members of Mr. Spitzer’s staff, including the budget director, Laura L. Anglin, and Paul Francis, the director of operations.

The two had been working together to control state spending and find new sources of revenue in the face of a projected $4.4 billion budget gap.

Several other Spitzer aides seem likely to stay, at least for now. They include Sean Patrick Maloney, the first deputy secretary to the governor; Bruce Gyory, a senior adviser; and Mr. Spitzer’s press team, headed by Ms. Anderson.

Speaking with reporters, Ms. Anderson said there would be relatively few resignations.

But members of Mr. Spitzer’s tight-knit inner circle are likely to depart when the governor does. Richard Baum, Mr. Spitzer’s top aide and gatekeeper, has already submitted his resignation. He will be replaced by Mr. Paterson’s chief of staff, Charles J. O’Byrne, who met Thursday with members of Mr. Spitzer’s executive staff.

Lloyd Constantine, Mr. Spitzer’s close friend, mentor, and adviser, has already submitted a letter of resignation, although he will continue to assist the transition.

Some of those likely to depart are aides Mr. Spitzer brought with him from the attorney general’s office whom some legislators blamed for Mr. Spitzer’s combative approach to governing in his early months in office.

Changes in staff are not the only ones Mr. Paterson is likely to make. He did not make a commitment to voluntary limits on his own campaign fund-raising, as Mr. Spitzer did when he became governor. Asked whether he would support Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s proposal for congestion pricing to regulate traffic in Manhattan, Mr. Paterson said only that he would take a look at it.

But in some areas, Mr. Paterson seemed more inclined to revise Mr. Spitzer’s rhetoric rather than his policies. Speaking of campaign finance reform, Mr. Paterson did not, as the governor did, pledge to visit the districts of uncooperative lawmakers and publicly lambaste them. Instead, he spoke of trying to reach a consensus with the Senate and Assembly on lowering campaign limits.

“We want to not dictate campaign finance,” Mr. Paterson said. “We want to really persuade legislators that it really is the root of a lot of the dysfunction we have in Albany.”

Danny Hakim, Trymaine Lee and Jeremy W. Peters contributed reporting from Albany.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

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