ELIOT SPITZER’S campaign slogan was “Day One, Everything Changes”. On Day 439, everything finally did. The famously self-righteous Mr Spitzer stepped down as governor of New York because of allegations that he had had sex with expensive prostitutes and was possibly facing federal charges. David Paterson, his lieutenant, was sworn in as the state’s first black governor on March 17th.
Mr Paterson is nothing like his steamrollering ex-boss. He is unabashedly candid: he and his wife, he said, have had affairs and, when asked whether he had ever employed a prostitute, he smiled and said: “Only the lobbyists.” He is self-effacing about himself, even his blindness. His swearing-in speech to the state Assembly and Senate demonstrated this; it was humorous, full of gentle jibes and calls for compromise. He joked that when Joe Bruno, the formidable majority leader of the state Senate, invited him to dinner he accepted, but vowed to take a food-taster with him.
New Yorkers elected Mr Spitzer, an Albany outsider, on a mandate to battle corruption and to clean up state affairs. Mr Paterson, by contrast, is an Albany insider and has been in state government for two decades. His father is a former New York state secretary. His audience were plainly happy to have one of their own in charge. And it was clear that the legislature is eager to move on from what, even by Albany’s standards, has been a rough week, not to mention a vitriolic year. Mr Spitzer’s abrasive style alienated many people and did much to paralyse his own efforts at reform.
With a reputation as a good negotiator and compromise-finder, Mr Paterson may create the bipartisan consensus Mr Spitzer needed. But E.J. McMahon, of the Empire Centre for New York State Policy, predicts that goodwill will take him only so far. Mr Paterson will need every ounce of charm to pass a $124 billion budget and to close a $4.4 billion deficit by April 1st. Although he has said he will remain committed to the budget plan’s outlines, he has not ruled out raising taxes. He must also convince the state to approve New York City’s congestion-pricing plan by the end of the month or risk losing $350m in federal funding. It is not clear how much of the rest of Mr Spitzer’s agenda he will keep.
Mr Paterson’s legislative record gives only a hint of what his own plans may be. As an assemblyman, he introduced a number of bills (most of which went nowhere), including one that would have made it a crime for the police to shoot to kill a suspect. He considered extending voting rights to some illegal immigrants. He wanted to increase state income tax, and is a good friend to unions. Mr McMahon reckons Mr Paterson could well be the most left-of-centre governor New York has ever had. But he also admits it is difficult to predict what he will actually do now he is the state’s chief executive.
Doug Muzzio, a politics professor at Baruch College, thinks Mr Paterson may get a bit of help from state lawmakers, who are anxious to show they are not dysfunctional. But if they don’t, will Mr Paterson be tough enough to force his former colleagues to behave? And what about Mr Spitzer’s plans to clean up Albany? For all his charm, Mr Paterson may well be too much of an insider to be effective.
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