NEW YORK (FinalCall.com) – David Alexander Paterson, 53, has become the first Black governor of the state of New York, the third Black man since Reconstruction to serve in that capacity. Deval Patrick is presently the governor of Massachusetts, and L. Douglas Wilder served Virginia, leaving office in 1994.
The Brooklyn-born Harlem raised governor is married to Michelle Paige Paterson and they have two children. Gov. Paterson graduated from Columbia University in 1977 with a bachelor’s degree in history, and a law degree from Hofstra Law School. His father, Basil Paterson was the first Black secretary of state of New York, who had an unsuccessful run for lieutenant governor in 1970.
The former lieutenant governor ascended to the high office after the resignation of Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who after a little more than a year on the job, was forced to step down due to a Federal Bureau of Investigation allegation that he solicited a prostitute, and paid her way from New York to Washington, D.C. Mr. Spitzer resigned on March 12, but Mr. Paterson had asked that it not be effective until March 17, allowing for an orderly transition period, according to Mr. Spitzer.
The hard charging and abrasive former prosecutor, drew concern among some Blacks for his campaigns against Harlem-based Hale House, a Black home for AIDS babies, and another major Black charity. Mr. Spitzer had few friends by the time his personal indiscretions became public.
On March 13, Mr. Paterson told reporters the government is stable and going forward. “I gave my word to Gov. Spitzer in Jan. 2006 when I left as a Democratic Senate leader to be his running mate that I would be prepared in the event I had to assume authority,” Mr. Paterson told reporters.
He went on to say he felt privileged and honored to hold the position.
When reporters asked Mr. Paterson to reflect on Mr. Spitzer’s troubles, he said, “It’s been a very sad few days for the history of New York, for me it’s been even sadder.”
“His first challenge will be to head a state that is in pain and shame,” Rev. Al Sharpton, head of the Harlem-based National Action Network, in statement published on the organization’s website.
“New York State needs a man of vision,” commented Kevin Muhammad, student minister at Muhammad Mosque No. 7 in Harlem. Kevin Muhammad said he shared a good relationship with the former state senator from Harlem. Mr. Paterson has his job cut out for him with the state facing a $5 billion, Kevin Muhammad told The Final Call.
During his reflections on the life of musician and activist Max Roach, back in August, Gov. Paterson noted how he was inspired by Malcolm X, “who offered us a steadfast but disciplined criticism and honesty about the America there was for Whites and the America there was for the so-called American Negroes of his time.”
He called Max Roach a “catalyst for the Black liberation movement.” In his conclusion Gov. Paterson recalled the lives of activist Paul Robeson and abolitionist Harriet Tubman, saying it was “their talent and struggle that changed the environment for all of us.”
“Gov. David Paterson definitely brings inspiration,” Kevin Muhammad concluded.
That sentiment was shared by the Baltimore-based National Federation of the Blind. A spokesman said Mr. Paterson’s ascension to the governor’s seat makes him an inspiration to blind Americans.
Gov. Paterson is legally blind since an infection affected his sight as an infant. He doesn’t use a cane or a guide dog; and reportedly doesn’t read Braille. “He will make the nation more open-minded about disabilities. He can only help shatter misconceptions and stereotypes,” the spokesman said.
Ironically, according to Gov. Paterson’s biographers, after finishing college, he suffered from a lack of self-esteem because of his disability. He felt he wasn’t socially developed, admitting that he felt people didn’t invite him to parties for fear he would knock things over.
If he felt uneasy in situations in college, it hasn’t followed into his political career. His disability has never been an issue in Albany in his 20-year tenure. He memorizes lengthy speeches without missing a point and has a reputation as someone who handles people well.
Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch in a recent interview, said Gov. Paterson was “very capable, not withstanding his near sightlessness. It’s never impeded his public actions or his personal actions.”
Since the incoming governor will have three years remaining in his term, he won’t be considered a lame duck; and can move forward with what he wants to do, according to analysts.
Mr. Paterson has pledged to continue the agenda of former Gov. Spitzer. He said he would govern through consensus. Republicans and Democrats praised the new governor for being bipartisan, cooperative and knowledgeable.
Observers say he compiled a notable record in public office, as a supporter of gay marriage and cell stem research and as a strong advocate against domestic violence. Julia Hurst, director of the National Lt. Governor’s Association wrote that Mr. Paterson has “focused on climate change and other environmental issues.” He has also campaigned for school vouchers, and has pushed for more restrictions on campaign donations.
It is said that Gov. Paterson enjoys a good relationship with the state’s Republicans, especially the Majority Speaker of the Senate, Joe Bruno, a powerful nemesis of the former governor. That will prove to be a very important alliance, since the state budget is due in three weeks.
Mr. Paterson has not ruled out an income tax increase, mostly on the state’s wealthy earning $1 million and above to 7.7 percent from 6.58 percent, to close the deficit gap. He said he also favors a property tax cap.
The new governor said he would work towards a $1 billion investment fund to invigorate the upstate economy.
Halim Muhammad, student minister in Buffalo, N.Y.’s Muhammad Mosque No. 23, said the new governor’s attention to upstate issues would be welcomed. “We need his help in Buffalo, one of the poorest city’s in the state. We were rated 49th out of 50 with cities with populations over 100,000,” he said. Buffalo has 300,000 resident and 30 percent of residents are Black.
On Long Island, Blacks are “overjoyed over their new governor,” according to Rev. Roderick Pearson, pastor of the Hope Missionary Baptist Church, in Central Islip, N.Y. “We are calling 2008 the ‘Year of the Black Man,’ with a Black governor in New York, and Barack Obama running for president,” Rev. Pearson told The Final Call.
Bob Law, activist, publisher, entrepreneur, and a main cog in the Millions More Movement in New York State, said of all of the Black politicians in the state, David Paterson “is the best that we have.” We now have a really good guy in Albany, Mr. Law said.
“There is going to be a lot of pressure on him to maintain traditional gubernatorial policies, which means giving only lip service to the problems Blacks face in the state,” said Mr. Law. Speaking in terms of what the governor can do that directly affects Blacks, Mr. Law said the governor can commit to strengthening the educational and health systems, fight hospital closings, and help the Black small businesses. There are 3.2 million Blacks in New York state, according to the latest U.S. Census figures, but only 7.6 percent own businesses in the state.
“The hope is that he has an opportunity in his era to usher in some intelligent, progressive policy,” Mr. Law said.
Mr. Law said he was encouraged that the new governor’s father is with him. “I hope he stays close to him,” Mr. Law told The Final Call. News reports said that the first person the new governor called after hearing of Mr. Spitzer’s troubles was his father. “David Paterson has always had good people with him at all times,” observed Mr. Law.