David Paterson has taken a lot of heat in wonkish circles, including here on Daily Kos.
For those who don't recall, Paterson is an African-American with a severe vision impairment. He was a long-time state legislator in New York, and he was tapped in 2006 to be Eliot Spitzer's running mate. When Spitzer resigned in scandal, Paterson became Governor, and his tenure was rocky to say the least.
But I've long felt that much of the criticism was undeserved. Here was a public servant and a true legislator at heart, well versed in the glad-handling and wheeling and dealing necessary to get anything done in Albany. In fact, I suspect that's why Spitzer wanted him for Lieutenant Governor; he needed someone to run the State Senate and shepherd legislation through it (the NY Lt Gov is the nominal President of the Senate and can cast tie-breaking votes).
But he got pushed into a position he probably never really wanted: Governor. He did his best with it, I think, but it's telling that he didn't even consider running for election to his own term.
(Though, really, I wonder now if most Kossaks would rather have Paterson or Cuomo as New York's governor right now.)
Paterson's list of gubernatorial accomplishments is not long. But atop that list is one that stands alone, and should alone mark his tenure as a success. He appointed Kirsten Gillibrand to the Senate.
In the news recently, Paterson has opened up about the much-maligned process involved in the Senate selection (the vacancy had opened up when Hillary Clinton was named Secretary of State). And the headline from that news is this: Paterson himself wanted the Senate seat.
Well before Spitzer resigned, Clinton was the front-runner for the Democratic nomination for President, and it seems there was an understanding between Paterson and Spitzer that Paterson would get the job if she won. Perfectly logical, really: Paterson was a legislator at heart, not an executive. That the seat was Bobby Kennedy's (by way of Charles Goodell [the NFL Commish's father], James Buckley [brother of William F.], and the late, great Daniel Patrick Moynihan) also held a special resonance for Paterson, who considers Kennedy a hero.
Clinton's loss to Barack Obama scuttled that possibility, and by the time she was named Secretary of State, Paterson was governor. And here's where Paterson has been, I think, unfairly demonized. There was a lot of brouhaha over Caroline Kennedy (RFK's niece) possibly being appointed, and Paterson perhaps didn't handle it as well as he could have. And now we can speculate as to why: Paterson was considering appointing himself.
But he didn't.
He could have, of course. Perfectly legal, though self-serving. But there was one snag: he didn't have a Lieutenant Governor. The acting Lieutenant Governor was whomever was the President Pro Tempore of the State Senate -- at the time, one Malcolm Smith (D-Queens). If Paterson became Senator, Smith would become Acting Governor. Once that happened, then at any time the Senate could elect a new President Pro Tem who would immediately become Acting Governor.
And of course, since Smith was indicted last year on federal bribery charges (don't worry, sitting New York State legislators are indicted all the time)... well, just imagine the scenario if he'd been sitting in the governor's mansion, dealing with a Senate that could replace him at will.
So perhaps Paterson's greatest accomplishment comes not in his appointment of Gillibrand -- an outstanding Senator by just about any measure, and a true stateswoman -- but rather in recognizing the chaos that would result from appointing himself, and choosing to forgo his personal dream for the greater good of the State.