Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Paterson's Limbo

Governor David Paterson continues to practice his election poll limbo; along with that old refrain from the limbo-watching crowd: "how low can you go." As the NY Post reports this morning: "A staggering 63 percent of voters say Gov. Paterson does not deserve to be elected to a full term next year, and 53 percent want him to declare now that he won't run, according to a poll released yesterday."

Paterson, for his part, remained eerily upbeat, blaming his low polling on the economic hard times, and not his own performance: "Paterson blamed his poor showing on his efforts to grapple with the massive state budget deficit. "Right now, we have a historically high budget deficit, so it would follow that whoever is supervising it would have historically low poll numbers," he said yesterday."

This is known as whistling passed the graveyard. How many sitting governor's would lose to a challenger from their own party by over 40% of those polled? But that's what Paterson faces if he were to find himself in a showdown with Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. So, as Liz pointed out yesterday: "Top New York Democrats have privately set a deadline of early November for Gov. Paterson to turn his poll numbers around or they'll urge him not to run next year.
"The idea is to let him get through the budget and get through the summer," said a prominent Democratic donor who sees the fall elections as the cutoff for Paterson's improvement."

How likely is that? Not so much if you consider the governor's raw leadership skills. In his case, it would take an extremely eloquent and charismatic fellow to somehow emerge from this kind of morass; and does anyone think that David Paterson is that fellow? The reality is that Paterson's poll numbers are well deserved-with a dismal year's performance that culminated in his ceding governing authority to the state's most liberal leader, the assembly speaker Sheldon Silver. The end result, was a budget that did a 180 from the fiscal austerity rhetoric that had originally helped Paterson to attain some decent poll numbers last summer.

Which is precisely as the Daily News' Bill Hammond sees this dismal scene: "Stick a fork in Gov. Paterson. He's as good as done.The budget battle was his last, best chance to regain the shattered faith of New Yorkers, and he blew it. He promised a budget that would rein in out-of-control spending in the face of a terrible economy. He promised to avoid job-killing tax hikes. He delivered exactly the opposite - a bloated plan that allows spending to soar and wallops overburdened taxpayers with $8 billion in new levies."

And the governor's spin class has only succeeded in making us all dizzy: "The biggest fib of all is Paterson's claim to have controlled spending and conquered future budget gaps. In fact, deficits are guaranteed to explode in 2012, when the federal stimulus money runs out and the temporary income tax hike expires. Add it up, and they're not just trying to tell us the glass is half full. They're telling us up is down and black is white."

If Democratic leaders don't find a way to get Paterson to exit gracefully, they may well be facing a bloodbath in 2010: "State Republicans have their fannies in fewer legislative and congressional seats than since the mists of political time. They control no statewide offices. Even their inventory of local government chairs looks as spare as the shelves of a Third World department store. Republicans can't even take advantage of opportunities to recapture offices that, based on enrollment, they never should have lost. As bleak a scenario as this is for a party that only recently held the governor's mansion, the state Senate and other centers of power, the Republicans may have the Democrats right where they want them. And that's taxing, spending, flailing and feuding."

And it is the state senate where the putative comeback will take place, that is unless Paterson is able to see the handwriting on the wall: "The Democrats' actions on the state budget — on top of other perceived disasters — could fuel a quick Republican rebound next year. The most likely place for GOP gains is the state Senate. The Democrats' control is so tenuous that the illness of one of their members delayed the budget for at least a day because they didn't have an extra vote to pass it. And the boiling anger in swing suburban and upstate communities over they way they feel the New York City-based Democratic leadership treated them could help the party reclaim its majority. The Democrats, who held the line on the state spending not driven by federal stimulus funds, may have a case that the budget is not as unfair as Republicans and regional activists claim."

So, if the party is going to avoid this debacle in the making, someone needs to gracefully give Paterson the Ted Mack hook; and the fawning wagon-circling by fellow Harlemites doesn't bode well for gracefulness: "Embattled Gov. David Paterson got some support earlier today from three fellow Harlem Democrats, who rallied around him and (at least in the case of Rep. Charlie Rangel), accused the media of giving him a bad rap. Said Rangel, who noted he's had his own "differences with the press," to Paterson: "...If you were in a boat and you got out of the boat and walked the waters, the newspaper would report ‘Governor Paterson can’t swim.’ And so, I want you to know that we don’t control the ink that the reporters have, but throughout this great state, and throughout the congressional delegation, we’re looking forward to your continued leadership and to the community, thank you so much for being you."

If good sense doesn't prevail here, Paterson will be joining the hapless Hall of Fame-joining David Dinkins in more ways the one if his refusal to leave the stage ushers in a new era of Guiliani. But we don't expect the governor's poll numbers to experience a Lourdes curing moment; nor do we think that the Rangel-style cheer leading will last while poll numbers remain frozen in record depths. Come September, as we have already suggested, David Paterson will be playing Groucho's Captain Spaulding; telling us all: "Hello, I must be going."