Thursday, July 09, 2009

After You My Dear Richard,

Well, you have to at least know that the governor really had nothing to lose here. With approval ratings approaching those of serial killers and child molesters, David Paterson threw a Hail Mary pass; which if it passes the constitutional test, will have a chance to restore some of the luster that a series of missteps and blunders have almost scrubbed clean from his tarnished image. As the NY Times reports: "Gov. David A. Paterson named Richard Ravitch, a Democratic lawyer with a career in government dating back a half century, as the state’s lieutenant governor on Wednesday. Mr. Paterson said Mr. Ravitch, 76, would bring stability to the capital and help him end what he called the “crisis in governance” that for more than a month has paralyzed the Senate during its 31-to-31 split."

Now comes the court test; because no one really knows if the move will be accepted as constitutional: "Mr. Paterson’s move was intended to end the turmoil in the capital, but it seemed chiefly to intensify it, drawing threats of legal challenges even before the governor announced his decision on television at 5 p.m. The lieutenant governor’s office has been vacant since Gov. Eliot Spitzer resigned last year and Mr. Paterson succeeded him; the State Constitution does not provide for filling the office in the event of a vacancy."

So, it gets complicated, and rather than get bogged down in the minutia we will simply say to the governor that this better pan out; because if it doesn't, with apologies to Jimmy Breslin, Paterson-all by himself-will take on the persona of the, Gang that Couldn't Shoot Straight. Our bet is that, given the governor's string of goofiness, this is all gonna blow right up in his face.

Already the long knives are out, and Gerson Borrerro is reporting that Pedro Espada and Dean Skelos have a temporary restraining order to halt Ravitch from stepping in to the vacant LG spot: "State Senator’s Pedro Espada, Jr. and Dean Skelos have just been informed by their attorney, John Ciampioli, Counsel for the New York State Senate Republican Campaign Committee, that a restraining order against Governor David A. Paterson and Richard Ravitch has been granted.“Not prom night yet for them,” Espada told The Borrero Report in a 1:25 AM telephone call."

So now we potentially have an even bigger snafu in Albany-with Paterson at the wheel of the clown car. And why would Ravitch do this? Shouldn't both he and the governor had waited-simply asked the courts before leaping-until a legal ruling was issued? All in all, an Laurel and Hardy moment in the making here; because even if the new LG can be seated, there's doubt that he could function to break ties in normal legislative procedures: "Perhaps most important, the Senate’s rules indicate that the lieutenant governor cannot be counted as part of a quorum, a key issue since neither faction has the 32 votes needed to constitute a quorum. “If he can’t vote on that, then the rest becomes moot,” said Gerald Benjamin, a professor of political science at the State University of New York at New Paltz."

And if he can't, the ball really hasn't advanced beyond the fact that it removes the possibility that Espada would be next in line to succeed the governor if he no longer was around. But, perhaps that would be enough to get the warring sides to agree to a power sharing arrangement. We'll see. But no one should be holding their breathe on this.

The one thing we know for sure is that we don't believe that the governor's stated rationale for taking this bold leap is credible. As the NY Daily News reports: "Paterson said he took the uncharted step because the ongoing paralysis in the Senate was starting to hurt localities dealing with the tanking economy. He cited Mayor Bloomberg's decision this week to enact a hiring freeze on police and firefighter jobs because the Senate did not pass a bill to authorize a hike in the city sales tax. Paterson also said that with state revenue having dropped by 36% over projections the past three months, the Senate and Assembly will soon be needed to make further cuts to the budget. "We cannot allow for any further exposure to uncertainty [and] risk at a time of unparalleled fiscal difficulties," he said."

No, Paterson did this to hopefully rescue his own slim chances of holding on to the office. The fact that the legislature is out-and unable to further damage the economy-is actually a plus for the citizens. Because when it was in session, all it did was make things worse-and the governor's lack of leadership saw taxes rise-with very little of the trimming that the governor claims will be necessary in the near term.

So while it is embarrassing to watch all of the hijinks in the state capitol, this isn't quite the crisis that Paterson claims it is. What it does underscore, is that the state is rudderless; and if the courts strike down the governor's latest gambit-clueless will be added to leaderless.