New York's Gov. David Paterson to drop election bid

Dogged by scandal and low poll numbers, New York's Gov. David Paterson reportedly will announce his decision to drop his election bid Friday afternoon.

Frank Franklin II/AP
Reports say that New York Gov. David Paterson, shown here during a news conference Thursday, will announce his decision to drop his election bid Friday afternoon.

Trying to contain a burgeoning scandal in his administration, Gov. David Paterson (D) apparently has decided to pull the plug on his campaign for a full four-year term.

The governor’s decision, expected to come on Friday afternoon, opens the door for Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to run for a seat once held by his father, Mario. For the state Republicans, it brings clarity over who they are likely to face in the fall, assuming Mr. Cuomo decides to make the run.

“Andrew Cuomo will be the Democratic nominee,” says Douglas Muzzio, a political commentator and professor at Baruch College in New York. “I think he will formally announce it in March.”

Cuomo is likely to be a formidable candidate. He acquired experience on the national scene during the Clinton presidency when he was secretary for Housing and Urban Development. As attorney general, he appears to have fearlessly taken on vested interests, such as the banking establishment and the giant conglomerate AIG.

“He has been almost a paradigm of the public official concerned about doing his job and doing well and keeping himself out of it,” says Mr. Muzzio.

However, Cuomo may also have some potential political weaknesses. In 2003, he divorced from Kerry Kennedy.“That could be a problem for Catholic voters,” says John Zogby of Zogby International, a polling firm, in Utica, N.Y. “Both sides have been mum about what happened.”

Cuomo will also have to start to unveil his own plans for the state. This could also open him up for criticism, particularly if his plans contain tax increases. “He can’t wait until September to unfold his plans,” says Mr. Zogby. “And then there will be the tabloids who will be looking at everything he does.”

Governor Paterson’s decision to cancel his campaign was not a surprise, says Zogby. “He had to do it. His polling numbers were not getting any traction,” he says.

Paterson has had a bumpy road since taking over in spring 2008 from former Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who resigned after being caught up in a call-girl scandal. The country's first legally blind governor started off by admitting infidelities. He then watched as the legislature became politically deadlocked, blocking a lot of legislation. Paterson then tried to get lawmakers to do something about the state’s structural budget deficit, to no avail. He appeared politically powerless.

“He had been courageously raising some fundamental questions,” says Zogby. “But I think he really felt there were an array of forces against him.”

In the latest incident, details were leaking out about Paterson’s attempt to intervene in a domestic violence case involving one of his closest aides, David Johnson, and a woman Mr. Johnson lived with for four years. On Thursday, the governor’s appointee as the overseer of the state police resigned because she felt misled about the events, which included the state police security detail for the governor contacting the woman involved in the case. The woman felt harassed by the state police, who had no jurisdiction in the affair. (For more Monitor coverage of the scandal dogging Paterson, click here.)

Paterson’s decision not to run highlights the dysfunctional political arrangement in the Empire State, says Muzzio.

“We have an upper house that cannot get a quorum. They are totally deadlocked, and the governor is powerless in a political sense,” he says.

Over a period of four years, New York has had three governors: George Pataki, Mr. Spitzer, and Paterson. If Paterson were to resign early – and some lawmakers are calling for him to leave – the state would have two unelected governors in four years.

“From a political standpoint, New York is the most dysfunctional state in the nation,” says Muzzio. “We are in a class all by ourselves.”

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