Ravitch Offers Blunt Assessment of His Time as Lieutenant Governor

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New York’s departing Lieutenant Governor Richard Ravitch gave a blunt assessment of his term in office Thursday. Speaking at a Rockefeller Institute forum, Ravitch said he didn’t feel like he accomplished very much during his time serving under Governor David Paterson.

Governor David Paterson created a new precedent when he appointed Richard Ravitch as his lieutenant governor in the summer of 2009. Then-Lieutenant Governor Paterson had replaced former Governor Eliot Spitzer, leaving the post vacant. Up until that time, when there was no lieutenant governor, the state’s constitution said the post should be filled by the Senate majority leader, who would pull double duty. But a coup and monthlong standoff in the Senate left the lines of succession uncertain, and the state’s highest court ruled that Paterson had the right to appoint his own lieutenant governor.  

At the time, Paterson said Ravitch, a heroic figure credited with rescuing New York City from bankruptcy in the 1970s and who has served in numerous governmental capacities including chairman of the MTA, would help the governor with the budget crisis.

But Ravitch’s ideas were ignored, and Ravitch told a forum at SUNY’s Rockefeller Institute that he does not believe he achieved much in his year and half as lieutenant governor.

“I don’t feel I accomplished anything very substantive. I think that I’ve hopefully enhanced the public dialogue,” said Ravitch.

Ravitch worked for months on a plan to bail the state out of its financial crisis. He recommended short-term borrowing coupled with long-term budgetary reforms. Governor Paterson not only did not follow the recommendations, he openly criticized them. 

“All I could do was offer my recommendations,” said Ravitch. “They were rejected by the governor and the attorney general at the time.”

The attorney general is now Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo, who Ravitch says will make a “strong” governor who is “bright” and “honest,” and who has “all the necessary ingredients to govern.”

Ravitch says he has “no idea” why his proposals were dead on arrival. He says Paterson never discussed the matter with him. He says many legislators, though, both Democrats and Republicans, said privately they liked his plan, but told him he was “politically naïve.”

Ravitch did not directly criticize Paterson, but did he say he feels the pain of others in the administration whose ideas were ignored, or who, like Environmental Conservation Commissioner Pete Grannis, were fired for expressing their opinions. Grannis was let go after an unsigned memo warned of dire consequences for the state’s environmental health if layoff plans were carried out.

The 77-year-old Ravitch is philosophical about his time in state government, saying he’s “reached the ripe old age where being intellectually engaged keeps the juices flowing.”

“I’ve never looked back on things,” he said. “It’s been a terrific learning curve.”

He’s already met with Lieutenant Governor-elect and current Rochester Mayor Robert Duffy. He declined to share what the two discussed, but when asked whether he thinks Duffy will have a worthwhile experience as lieutenant governor, he said, “that depends solely on his relationship with the governor.” Paterson, in a statement, says he’s “grateful” for the counsel provided by Ravitch and “appreciative of his service to the people of New York.”

Ravitch says he plans to have one last holiday lunch with Paterson in the remaining days of their terms in office. After that, he says he wants to take his wife on a vacation, and then he says he wants to continue to write and lecture about the huge financial problems facing governments.