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Former Gov. Paterson discusses New York's latest lieutenant governor shakeup

 Former Gov. David Paterson
Former Gov. David Paterson
Former Gov. David Paterson

Last summer, New York state politics underwent a seismic shift when Governor Andrew Cuomo resigned, thrusting his Lieutenant Governor, Kathy Hochul, into the spotlight. Now, the lieutenant governor slot is dominating headlines again, after Hochul tapped Congressman Antonio Delgado of the 19th district to replace Brian Benjamin, who resigned last month after being arrested as part of a federal fraud investigation.

One person who has been on both sides of this dynamic is former Governor David Paterson, who was LG from 2007 to 2008 and governor from 2008 through 2010.

What’s your advice right now for Congressman Delgado?

Well, the congressman in a very short period of time passed, I believe, 20 bills in the House of Representatives. He’s very dynamic speaker, well regarded for his wisdom and advice to others, and has very much been popular in a short period of time serving his district.

Now it's hard from going to a different venue where you're not going to be called upon as much to be a leader, you're not going to be called upon as much to make policy. You are really trying to fulfill the mission of the current Governor Kathy Hochul. And I went through that sort of because I was the Minority Leader of the Senate. We beat the Republicans in 2004 four times. So we were within two seats of taking the majority. And it appeared suddenly. I leave that, you know, prominent post that's about to become the majority leader to be Governor Spitzer's assistant, basically. And so you have to kind of recognize that you're going back to the days when you are at the whim of others. And we talked about it and we were actually able to make it work. And I think Congressman Delgado and Governor Hochul will make it work. But I'm sure Congressman Delgado way down the road in the back of his mind has other plans at some point.

Meaning he's now a breath away from being governor himself.

Well, you know, when I ran for lieutenant governor, I wasn't thinking about the governor leaving, I just thought the governor would serve out two terms. And as I calculated, in 2014, I might have the chance to run for governor. There’d never been a blind person or an African American that had ever done that in this state. And only one of the time did it ever happen in the country.

So you think that Antonio Delgado may have made a calculation here that potentially his re-election effort in Congress would be a little dicey this fall, but lieutenant governor sets him up well, for the future?

Yes. I think he would have won in his race in the fall, I think winning the lieutenant governor position coming into the race only six weeks before the primaries is actually going to be more difficult. But, you know, what I remember about being in the process myself was just that I thought that by serving Governor Spitzer, something would happen for me.

You know, obviously, at the time, Hillary Clinton, our United States senator, was going to run for president and both Spitzer and I thought that she would win. And we thought that if that were the case, that the U.S. Senate might be a great place for me. So you just never know what's going to happen. But when you invest the time to help others with very little gain for yourself, you become a favorite person because people like that kind of loyalty. They like someone's willingness to not only be a leader but at times to be a follower.

Well, you had your own battle with the Republican-led legislature at that time about appointing your own lieutenant governor, Richard Ravitch. What went into your decision at that time, from your perspective then as governor?

I had read of a situation where an attorney general who won by vote in 1940, died, basically, before they took office. And there were a lot of difficulties. And finally the Court of Appeals gave the governor permission to appoint an attorney general. So I thought that if there was a vacancy in the lieutenant governor's office, that we could appoint a lieutenant governor, and I came up with Richard Ravitch. And I was trying to pick someone who wasn't political. Someone who rather was a civic leader, had done a lot of work on the MTA, and with public policy in different places.

I never really understood why the Republicans challenged this. At the time that I made the appointment, had I been unable to serve, the person who would have succeeded me was Majority Leader of the Senate, who at the time was a Democrat, Malcolm Smith. I think the reason the Republicans did it was because they were in the minority in the Senate. And I remember when I was in the minority in the Senate, sometimes you do things just to get attention.

In terms of the relationship between Delgado and Hochul, is there a natural tension between the lieutenant governor and the governor? We know Mario Cuomo, when he was governor, didn't always get along with the number two slot and we know Andrew Cuomo, it's fair to say, isolated Governor Hochul from his inner circle. How does that relationship actually work in practice in your experience?

It worked very well. Governor Spitzer was not just bringing in someone who was a county executive in Westchester, or, you know, a city clerk in Buffalo. He was bringing in the Minority Leader of the Senate, who was two votes away from becoming a majority leader. And he treated me with that respect the whole time I was there. He gave me issues to work on, public policy issues, such as energy policy, Minority Women's Business Enterprises, domestic violence issues, and then a few other things he had me work on. He allowed me to come to all the major meetings. I, you know, gave my opinion. He didn't always take it, but he was the governor. So I think that we had one of the better relationships.

And as a matter of fact, when I became governor, I talked to him a few times about different things I was doing just to get his opinion. And, you know, we maintained a relationship even after we both left office. But that's infrequent. That's unusual that that actually happens. However, with Governor Hochul’s personality and also being that she was a lieutenant governor herself, I get the feeling that she and the new Lieutenant Governor Delgado are going to repeat the relationship that Spitzer and I had.

I was going to ask you that because he's got an impressive background. He comes from Congress, obviously. Washington and Albany are different places. But do you think he may have argued for a bigger portfolio to make this jump in joining her administration?

Well, as yet, we don't know what his portfolio is. And I think the reason that it's taking a little longer in this case is that Spitzer and I were running together for governor and lieutenant governor. And so we were around each other before we took office for about six to eight months. And in that time, I think we got to know each other. I think he knew where he thought I would be effective. And I think I knew where I wanted him to focus and allow me to assist him.

And so they probably will…this will be organic, it'll work over its place in time. But I think if they have each other's trust, and they and they have a mission, and right now, they have more problems to worry about what's going on in the governor's office, because they're both running. What they’d better worry about is how to get Antonio Delgado's name better known in New York City where it's not known, and that's not his fault. That's just the reality of the situation. And Governor Hochul herself has to stave off some challengers in a primary and it will be a challenger in the general election.

I'm glad you brought that up, Governor Paterson. Because of the way voting works here in New York, there is the potential for the governor's chosen running mate to lose the primary where the governor and the LG are running separately. And as we speak, we saw the Senate Deputy Majority Leader endorse one of Delgado's opponents in that field. So the question is, what happens if Hochul does end up winning a full term this fall, but Delgado doesn't make it through as lieutenant governor. Then you've got an awkward dynamic potentially between the next lieutenant governor and Gov. Hochul, right?

Well, you sort of referred to this, Ian, previously. 40 years ago, when Mario Cuomo ran for governor against former mayor Ed Koch. Cuomo wins the primary from college but Cuomo’s candidate for lieutenant governor was the eventual Comptroller Carl McCall. The winner of the primary was Al DelBello, who was the county executive of Westchester. So Cuomo got stuck with the running mate, basically, of Koch. And that was a difficult relationship. And I think Cuomo and his people got tired of DelBello and put out all kinds of nasty literature about him. And he finally resigned in 1984. So that can that can be a problem.

There's also been some speculation that if New York's primary shifts to later in the summer because of the ongoing battle over the redistricting lines, that it could give former Governor Cuomo, the younger, room to get back into the race. What do you think of that possibility?

I think that politics is in the former governor's blood, I think he thinks about it 24/7. I think he thinks about it so much that it drove him beyond the point of self-awareness. And that's what got him into a lot of trouble. I don't think it would be bad if he had a little respite right now. Time to think and to analyze, you know, where he was mistreated, but also where he personally did wrong.

And you've never heard him actually say, and he even quoted himself as saying, ‘I never said I did anything wrong.’ But he seems to think that that's positive. I think it's negative because you always do something wrong. And I had a record of getting up right in front of millions of people and saying exactly what I did wrong. So I think that he can get back into this primary if he likes.

But one thing that occurs in situations like this, he won't be running against Hochul and Tom Suozzi or whomever as much as he’ll be running against himself. The issues of the allegations of the women, many of them who have threatened to sue, the issues of the nursing home scandals that the numbers were apparently fudged in that, you know, situation, the toxic work environment, sending out the employment records of people who work for you to the media because you don't like what they said about you. Now, he'll say he didn't do it, someone else did it. But it was all part of a stagnant, inferior work environment that is unbecoming not only the governor of the state of New York, but anyone who runs an office. So that's what he's going to run against.

However, if he had that sense of mea culpa, sits back, is quiet for a few years, which would be very difficult for him to do. But if he did do it, think of Governor Spitzer. He left in 2008. He comes back in 2013, and barely loses the primary for (New York City) comptroller and almost everybody, even including the winner of that primary, knows that if he'd come back a little earlier, he would have won for comptroller. Even Anthony Weiner, who was kicked out of Congress in 2011, comes back and runs in the mayoral primary in 2013 and is actually winning, except that he got back on his phone and got exposed in the scandal that got him out in the first place. And that did him in for good. But my point is that responsibility ignites compassion. Sacrifice engenders a certain forgiveness from the public. You know, short of murder, it appears that elected officials can come back. But you know, as many people have learned in biblical law, before you resurrect, you must be dead.

Do you talk to Governor Cuomo at all?

You know, after that outburst, I think you can see why Governor Cuomo doesn't talk to me, because I'd be happy to tell him exactly, you know, to his face what I said here because his conduct was reprehensible. And the worst thing about it was in March of last year. He has this statement, he tears up or was like a bad B movie. And he says that he's been told that sometimes when he speaks, it offends people. Well, you know, sometimes when I speak, like right now, it probably offends people as well. It's not about the fact that you make the mistake that everybody makes. It’s what mistake did you make that you shouldn't have made and that other people didn't make? And that's what he can't reconcile himself to and so he’s trapped in his own head. And in that bonded field, it's hard to present yourself as a candidate until you present yourself as someone who learned a lesson. And you've never heard him say that he learned one.

As we speak, do you think Governor Hochul is in good shape to win a full term this year?

I think she is. I think that she has made a lot of changes in a short period of time. Remember, I had one advantage that she didn't have. Other what with Spitzer, no one else in his administration was scandalized. So we pretty much didn't have to make that many changes to the staff and to the operation of the office. Right in the beginning Hochul had to deal with the other individuals in that office who were contributing to the toxic work environment and advocating and performing tasks that were unethical and illegal at times. So she had to clean up the mess. And that's what she was doing most of last summer, came into a very good position in terms of the budget, because there were a lot of resources. So if you're running in a primary, it was a lot to give away. There's obviously been some objections to the Buffalo deal, because the recipient’s really not as much the state of New York but a family that doesn't even live in New York. And so those types of things will happen from time to time, but I think she's been surprisingly effective, very strong, makes decisions quickly and isn't afraid to discuss when she's been wrong. And I think that's quite admirable for governor or any other leader.

One last thing: you've been talking about political comebacks. I have asked you this before, but do you ever see yourself getting back in?

Clearly, if you ever hear that I got back in, I want you to commit me to a psychiatric institution.

Former New York Governor and Lieutenant Governor David Paterson, speaking with us once again, on the eve of some change in the executive branch in Albany. Governor Paterson, it's great catching up with you. Thank you so much for taking the time.

Thank you. I look forward to talking to you again.

A lifelong resident of the Capital Region, Ian joined WAMC in late 2008 and became news director in 2013. He began working on Morning Edition and has produced The Capitol Connection, Congressional Corner, and several other WAMC programs. Ian can also be heard as the host of the WAMC News Podcast and on The Roundtable and various newscasts. Ian holds a BA in English and journalism and an MA in English, both from the University at Albany, where he has taught journalism since 2013.
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