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In Albany, Questions Remain About Whether Paterson Can Govern

Monday, March 01, 2010

Now that Gov. David Paterson is no longer seeking election to a four-year term, questions linger over the weakened chief executive’s ability to govern effectively, as the state faces a multibillion-dollar deficit, and a looming budget deadline.

Paterson released some of the pressure out of the valve when he announced he would no longer be a political candidate for governor. He said in an interview at an event sponsored by the New York Observer Monday that he can now focus on governing, and resolving one of the worst financial crises that has ever hit the state.

“I actually have 306 days remaining in my term as governor,” said Paterson, who said he “pledged to fight” for the people of the state.

But at the Capitol, questions remain about whether Paterson can effectively govern. In addition to a severely deteriorated relationship with the legislature, Paterson is also under the cloud of a looming criminal investigation by Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. It’s possible that Paterson could be charged with witness tampering. He has admitted to speaking by telephone to a woman who said she had been assaulted by the governor’s top aide, David Johnson. The woman did not show up at subsequent court appearance at which she was to seek an order of protection from Johnson, and the case was dismissed.

Steve Greenberg, with Siena Research Institute, says it’s going to be arduous for the governor to regain enough credibility and clout to win cooperation from state lawmakers.

“He is a lame duck,” said Greenberg.

A number of state lawmakers have said they don’t want to work with Paterson at all on the budget. Some, including Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, would prefer to have the governor turn over some of those duties to Lieutenant Gov. Richard Ravitch. Ravitch, a widely respected figure credited with helping save New York City in the 1970’s fiscal crisis, and more recently with bailing out the MTA, was appointed to the lieutenant governor post by Paterson last summer.

But the idea of having Ravitch take over budget talks, and what that would say about Paterson’s authority, irked some other lawmakers. State Sen. Eric Adams accused the Assembly Speaker, who is close to Ravitch, of a power play.

“Unless he has become the modern day Napoleon where he crowns himself,” said Adams. “He’s only the speaker, he’s not the leader or the King of New York State”.

Speaker Silver said that his comments had been misunderstood.

“The ultimate responsibility for all of it is with the governor,” said Silver, who said he was merely suggesting that Ravitch carry out some of the talks, under the consultation of Paterson.

Senate Democratic Leader John Sampson, speaking for the first time since Paterson’s announcement Friday that he would not be seeking election, also said that he would prefer to deal with Paterson on the budget. Sampson, a defense attorney by trade, says he does not think the governor should consider resigning, despite the on-going criminal probe.

“Why should he?” Sampson asked, saying, "allegations have not been substantiated” against the governor.

"Why can’t we just wait until the investigation is done, and make a determination at that point in time?” Sampson said.

Though the leaders professed willingness to work with and support the governor, Silver and Sampson were holding private meetings among themselves to discuss how best to proceed with the budget, which is due in one month.

Paterson, as governor, still holds many cards. A court ruling in recent years makes it more difficult for the legislature to alter the governor’s budget without his permission, and Paterson has the power to veto any bills he doesn’t like. A two-thirds majority is required in the Senate and Assembly for an override, and it’s uncertain whether the Senate’s 30 Republican members would go along with an override.

Governor Paterson says he has no intention of quitting.

“I think there is an hysteria that I have been a victim of, over the past couple of months,” said Paterson.

Despite the governor’s strong assertions, there was a feeling, expressed by many at the Capitol, that the other shoe has not yet dropped.

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