Monday, January 26, 2009

Paterson's Self Made Mess

It would be extremely hard to see how any one could top Caroline Kennedy's disastrous maiden voyage into politics, and to shift the focus in a different direction-but Governor Paterson managed to do just that-and the damage to his political future is beginning to become clearer in the aftermath of the selection fiasco. As Fred Dicker opines: "Gov. Paterson sealed his own fate yesterday as he insulted state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo with his bizarre selection of little-known upstate Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand as Hillary Rodham Clinton's successor. The only question being asked in state Democratic circles was not if - but when - Cuomo, who did not attend yesterday's press conference, will announce his candidacy to challenge Paterson in next year's primary."

And Paterson made Cuomo's job easier by selecting someone to succeed Hillary Clinton who will rile the party base against the governor next year. As the NY Times pointed out on Saturday: "Before the governor had even announced that he had selected Ms. Gillibrand, the pick ignited turmoil within the party, especially among more liberal downstate Democrats. Representative Carolyn McCarthy, an ardent gun-control activist who was elected to Congress after her husband was killed in a gunman’s rampage on the Long Island Rail Road in 1993, said Friday that she would start raising money next week for a potential primary challenge to Ms. Gillibrand, a centrist Democrat endorsed by the National Rifle Association."

The NY Daily News captures the almost perfect nature of the governor's maladroitness in this matter: "A civil war erupted among Democrats Friday when Gov. Paterson named a little-known upstate congresswoman to replace Hillary Clinton in the Senate. Senator-designate Kirsten Gillibrand's conservative positions on gun control, immigration and prisons put her at odds with the party's liberal downstate wing."

And the continued backbiting against Kennedy has manged to turn an entitled ingenue into a kind of Joan of Arc. How else to explain these comments: "In meetings, the governor and his aides decided she had no political depth, the source said. She had no firmly held views and little idea about why she wanted the job, the source said. Her abysmal public rollout cemented the governor's fears that she had no political instincts. The governor felt the sheltered Kennedy had no communication skills and absolutely no empathy with the voters, the source said."

All true, but besides the point; it was the governor's handling-or dithering, if you will-that allowed the situation to deteriorate. If in fact he felt that; "The nonstop Kennedy coverage, at the expense of the others Paterson was considering, also irked the governor, friends said.
He felt it made the other candidates look like they were second-best. He also felt she lacked the ambassadorial skills to make the case for New York," he needed to act with all deliberate speed.

So, as the NY Post editorialized on Saturday, the governor made a mess that he must now somehow overcome-but it won't be easy:

"All of this surely has a lot of Democrats gaping in amazement - assuming there was anything left to be amazed at after the humiliating farce surrounding Caroline Kennedy's aborted candidacy. Still, at least Paterson has made an appointment. As we have previously noted, this now-concluded sordid spectacle is but a sideshow to Albany's real drama: the state's ever-mounting budget deficit, which now stand at $15 billion through next year. It's a crisis that's needed Paterson's wholly undivided attention for weeks now, but which hasn't gotten it - thanks to his preoccupation with "intentionally misleading" people about his Senate pick so as to "keep up the suspense." Well, it worked - New Yorkers are in suspense. They're wondering how their state is going to keep from sinking in the national economic turmoil with a minimum of pain for every household."

David Paterson's choice to replace Hillary was unlikely to boost his election chances;but the key goal should have been to limit any damages. The opposite occurred. We'll give the acerbic Dicker the last word: "The insiders anticipate the situation at the Capitol worsening for Paterson, whose popularity has been sliding in recent polls, in the coming weeks and months. It's an open secret at the Capitol that his administration has been devolving into chaos, bumbling and paranoia since October. That's when Charles O'Byrne, the ex-priest who was Paterson's chief of staff-cum-personal adviser and confessor, resigned amid a tax-evasion scandal, leaving the governor without the skilled confidant he clearly needs. For a governor with limited management skills and a substandard work ethic (two months to pick a senator?), the coming grind of budget cuts and tax hikes could be enough to convince him to gracefully bow out of office at the end of his term."