Gov. Paterson's Spectacle
If I had one of those missing child milk cartons, I'd put New York Gov. David Paterson's face on it. The sharp, brilliant political strategist who rose from the state senate to the governor's mansion, and whom I've known and covered for about 15 years, has been missing since Barack Obama tapped Hillary Clinton to be secretary of state.
Paterson had been quietly building his national profile since his speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention. His ascendency to the governorship last year, after Eliot Spitzer's spectacular resignation, put his talents on full display. And then everything ran off the rails.
Caroline Kennedy formalized her desire to be Paterson's pick for Clinton's Senate seat with a splashy visit to upstate New York. Initially, Paterson played it right. The governor made it clear that Kennedy was worthy of consideration, but stressed that he would be looking at other contenders. As the process wore on, though, things took an ugly turn. Paterson and his camp alternately fanned and sought to puncture the aura of inevitability the Kennedy camp attempted to create. When Kennedy finally withdrew (after a disatrous "campaign"), rather than staying above the fray and wishing her well, the Paterson camp fueled a nasty whispering campaign, with questions about Kennedy's taxes and her marriage. A surefire way to ruin a nascent national image is to kneecap a revered member of America's equivalent to a royal family.
The selection of Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand didn't help Paterson's standing within the state. Sure, she's a centrist upstater who's a proven vote-getter and fundraiser. Gillibrand most certainly would balance out the ideological leanings of the ticket in the November 2010 elections. But there's an uproar from within the state's Washington delegation, most of whose members were absent from Paterson's Albany announcement. They're furious that the governor picked the 42-year-old Gillibrand over more experienced lawmakers. They're not enamored of some of her conservative positions. Gillibrand's membership in the National Rifle Association is a particular sore point. So much so that Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-Nassau County), who lost her husband in the Long Island Rail Road massacre in 1993, immediately announced she would challenge Gillibrand in 2010, when she will have to run in a special election complete Clinton's term.
The "missing" Paterson I knew would have seen this trouble coming and done his best to steer clear of it. Instead, the Paterson the nation sees is an indecisive, mud-slinging bumbler. And the Paterson the state now sees is a politically weakened chief executive, whose stature has diminished enough to potentially make him vulnerable to a primary challenge next year or be beaten by a Republican in the general election. Somewhere, Rudy Giuliani is smiling.
| January 24, 2009; 8:25 PM ET
Categories: Capehart | Tags: Jonathan Capehart
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