After Spitzer: Paterson brings political acumen to New York politics
Set to become governor Monday, the politician is known for his drive and affability.
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"He used to jog five miles on that road every couple of days – and remember he's blind," says Eric Lane, a professor of law at Hofstra, who was one of Paterson's teachers and later worked with him in the legislature. "This is a guy with fabulous fortitude; he's impressive. When he wanted to overcome his disability, he really pushed hard."Skip to next paragraph
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After law school, Paterson worked in the Queens, N.Y., district attorney's office, then signed on with former Mayor David Dinkins's campaign. Mayor Dinkins was a close friend of Paterson's father, Basil, a leading African-American politician, former state senator, and New York secretary of State. In 1985, when the seat that his father had held became vacant, Paterson easily won it. In 2002, he became the Senate minority leader.
"In the Senate, where he rose from a freshman senator to minority leader he showed great political skills," says Professor Lane. "He's got a good sense of humor. He knows how to talk to people; he understood what they needed, what they wanted. He's got that combination of good political skills and very impressive fortitude."
But some political analysts wonder whether Paterson will be tough enough to wrestle New York's two major political machines into line. New York political analyst Douglas Muzzio points out that he hasn't yet been in a real position of authority. In New York, that's traditionally been the governor, Senate majority leader, and Assembly speaker.
"As minority leader, he wasn't one of the three men in the room [who dictate Albany's politics] – in fact minority leader is a fairly powerless position," says Mr. Muzzio, who teaches political science at Baruch College. "The question for Paterson now is does he have the focus, the drive, and a focused agenda. And right now, we don't know."
But Paterson's history indicates that he made a study of proving such skeptics wrong. He told The New York Times that when he first became minority leader, he took a lesson from Mario Puzo's book "The Godfather."
"You should have your friends underestimating your strengths and have your adversaries overestimating your weaknesses," he said.
Soon after Spitzer announced that he would resign, Paterson released a statement saying that he was "saddened" by what he'd learned over the past few days. He also asked for all New Yorkers to pray for the Spitzer family. He then made it clear it was time to move on.
"It is now time for Albany to get back to work – as the people of this state expect from us," he said.