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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.

By Jonathan Capehart  | January 24, 2009; 8:25 PM ET
Categories:  Capehart  | Tags:  Jonathan Capehart  
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With republicans demanding rather than cooperating with the new admnistration, it is clear that democrats will have their hands full; they need a contentious election in New York like they need a hole in the head.

Doubt Paterson will have any help from the Kennedys, the Clintons, or the Como's for his own election...


Posted by: dutchess2 | January 26, 2009 12:49 AM | Report abuse

Caroline might be America's Princess Di, but once she threw her tiara into the ring she became a simple politician. The nat'l punditocracy seems hell bent on attacking Patterson. Why are you blaming Patterson for Caroline's tepid, indecisive, and ultimately purely flirtatious, campaign? Its seems to me that Caroline deserves the blame for that. I hardly think Patterson is responsible for Caroline's taxes, nannies & marriage. And if Patterson hadn't explained why Caroline withdrew he would've let stand the Kennedy line that "she was forced out", and then you'd complain that he was venal as opposed to merely bungling. The unfortunate reality is this was purely Caroline's mistake.

Posted by: slysly77 | January 26, 2009 11:52 AM | Report abuse

Dear Jonathan- While I agree with some of what you say here, I do not agree with all - for indeed any native New Yorker watching Mrs Schlossberg squirming the last couple of weeks could have predicted she was going to pull out - but don't underestimate Mr Patterson - he choose Kristen because we wants to appeal to upstaters who rarely get a voice - he wants their votes as well as NYC when he runs for governor - he will likely get them - he has been tough on the budget - it has hit downstate very hard - and he has demonstrated he is the Gov of all the state - I think he could have chosen better generally (as in begging Nita Lowey to take Mrs Clinton's spot) or Carolyn McCarthy - my beef with Gillenbrand is that she has a reputation for tough, nasty campaigning - something we really don't need any more of.

Posted by: u028021 | January 26, 2009 2:44 PM | Report abuse

Is it really Paterson or the Kennedy and Guomo camps?

I’m not from NY but I’m glad he chose his “own” person. Everyone kept saying that he is independent and when he shows he is he’s being vilified.

On NBC Today Andrea Mitchell showed her a$$ by the things she said about him without any proof – she just kept saying “…rumors…his office…Caroline didn’t deserve this…”.

Nothing like the entitled getting their comeuppance.

Posted by: rlj1 | January 26, 2009 3:44 PM | Report abuse

In the wake of Carolyn Kennedy's announcement that she was withdrawing her name from the list of those interested in being named by Gov. Patterson to fill the senate seat vacated by Hillery Clinton,Washington Post opinion writer Jonathan Capehart informs us in a piece published January 26, 2009 that "...rather than staying above the fray and wishing her well, the Patterson camp fueled a nasty whispering campaign with questions about Kennedy's taxes and marriage."
Capehart continued, "A surefire way to ruin a nascent national image is to kneecap a revered member of America's equivalent to a royal family."
It's worth noting,however, that nowhere is there any evidence that Gov. Patterson himself was involved in any "whispering campaign" that Capehart attributes to the governor's "camp". Statements attributed to Gov. Patterson in regard to Kennedy's appointment to the senate seat had all been positive and complimentary.
Therefore, it seems that a far more "surefire way" to have your image ruined is to have statements made by close associated attributed to yourself.
With so much at stake (namely the governor's political future) is there any evidence that Gov. Patterson was a part of any "nasty whispering campaign?"
Capehart implies that the governor was a involved in such a campaign. Where is the proof?

Posted by: sidneyxtribunejones | January 26, 2009 4:41 PM | Report abuse

excellent analysis. I am a New York Democrat, and will never again vote for Patterson, Schumer, or Clinton, if she resurfaces, God forbid.

And the worst case is that all this creates an opening for someone like Giuliani.

I don't share the enthusiasm of others for Cuomo. His family's brand of politics is very dirty, very nasty. I'd like to think he's matured, but that's very wishful thinking.

Some new faces, please?

Some posters challenge Capehart's staement that patterson and his people were behind the sliming of Kennedy. Since almost all reporters covering New York have written/said the same, and since they certainly know who's been calling them and spreading rumors to them, I think that has complete credibility.

And I'm tired of reading this nastiness about Kennedy. Her big crime is not being glib or a self-promoter, which sounds pretty darn good to me these days.

Lastly, I'm very angry about now having a Senator who's in the pocket of the NRA and Al D'Amato. That isn't what we voted for when we elected the Senator whose seat Gillibrand is filling.

Kennedy would not have been in the pocket of D'Amato and the NRA

Posted by: cecilyk | January 26, 2009 5:54 PM | Report abuse

Re: Just one out-of-state opinion

Governor Patterson may not care that much about his impression outside of New York. Maybe unfair, but after the Eliot Spitzer prostitute flameout, Patterson then needing to confess he and his wife had adulterous affairs triggered, for me, a sort of 'Oh shut up!’ reaction that lingers pretty much each time I see his smirking visage. I would not vote for him or for Carolyn for policy reasons, but the whole loopy spectacle seems a continuation of earlier melodramas, which is not to say that politics where I live is morally elevated from that of New York.


Border Enforcement + Immigration Moratorium = Job & Eco Sanity

Posted by: tma_sierrahills | January 27, 2009 11:46 AM | Report abuse

I don't think anyone's mentioned this, but it bothers me.

After Caroline Kennedy bailed, Paterson still had a wide field to choose from. But her withdrawal certainly highlighted the woefully awkward and disorganized way that he has conducted this search and vetting process.

Seems like maybe there was the tiniest bit of "getting back" at Kennedy in appointing a staunch NRA member and advocate, given that Kennedy's father and uncle were victims of gun violence.

If Paterson did, indeed, indulge in this kind of personal revenge, I hope that New Yorkers will take note and decline to reelect him for another term.

Posted by: kjohnson3 | January 27, 2009 5:35 PM | Report abuse

As someone who hails from Syracuse, the poster-child city for Upstate New York, and who is a registered Democrat who supported Spitzer, new Congressman Dan Maffei, and Chuck Schumer over the years, I'm thrilled that Paterson picked Gillibrand. Understand that her district is one of the heaviest Republican ones in the State.

My guess is that her position on the second amendment will change to reflect more of a centrist position. I understand Rep. McCarthy's approach to the Second Amendment comes from a very real and personal place, and she's entitled to that belief. But, and I don't believe I'm wrong, the gun used in the LIRR Massacre was owned illegally, and certainly used illegally. If Rep. McCarthy believes Gillibrand couldn't effectively represent downstate New Yorkers, wouldn't it follow that Rep. McCarthy can't represent Upstate New Yorkers? (Not that we're all a bunch of gun-toting loonies).

The point is that Rep. McCarthy does a good job representing a more urban/suburban liberal district. Sen. Gillibrand when she was Rep. Gillibrand did a good job representing a more rural conservative district. As Senator she will be expected to represent a state that is left of center, but more centrist than perhaps Rep. McCarthy would like to believe.

Rep. McCarthy has every right to run for the Senate in 2010, but as a fellow New Yorker I would hope that rather than play the divisive politics of Upstate/Downstate and run a single-issue negative campaign, she would work proactively with Sen. Gillibrand to make sure that New Yorkers are getting the best representation in the Senate. Invite Sen. Gillibrand to Nassau County. Explain to her how gun violence has hurt the communities there. And, as a proud Syracusan, I would invite Rep. McCarthy to come upstate. Hike in the Adirondacks. Take in a Syracuse Orange basketball game at the Carrier Dome. Go for a boat ride in the Finger Lakes, and try the wings at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo.

Posted by: UpstateDem | January 28, 2009 7:51 AM | Report abuse

Jonathan Capehart knows nothing about NY politics.

He is part of the Washington media elite, competely cut off from the rest of the country.

People of NY did not want Caroline Kennedy to be their senator. Poll after poll came out that said pretty much anybody but Caroline.

Caroline Kennedy's "base" was the media elite, the Andrea Mitchells and Maureen Dowds of Washington who wanted to invite Princess Caroline to their coctail parties. Caroline would have been the darling of the Sally Quinn Coctail Crowd.

The governor wisely realized that Princess Caroline, with all her millions and media adoration, could not win an election for city counsel. She would have been eaten alive by her republican opponent in a debate.

This woman has never competed for anything in life. Everything has been given to her on a silver platter. She has trouble completing a sentence in English. At least Romney, Bush, Clinton all ran for office. They competed. Caroline has lived in a bubble all her life, protected by her money, family and an adoring media.

By any measure Sarah Palin is a far more accomplished woman than Caroline. She wasn't born with a trust fund in her name.

Can you imagine if the Amy Carter or Chelsea Clinton or one of the Bush girls asked to be "appointed" to a senate seat? The media would have lynched them. And yet they now claim Princess Caroline wuz robbed! The senate seat was her birthright!


Posted by: mbateman52 | January 28, 2009 2:39 PM | Report abuse

Can we please move beyond "camelot"? That should have been dead and buried years ago.

Caroline Kennedy's claim to fame was her last name, it certainly was not her articulateness, her understanding of policy or issues or her professional chops. If she wanted to continue being the sphinx-like "princess" of the media she should have kept her mouth shut and her profile low.

Patterson will live or die in NY state in 2 years based on what other things he screws up. Gilliland will face opposition, from both within and without her party.

The Kennedy's are a dying brand. Let's move on.

Posted by: bandmom22 | January 28, 2009 4:30 PM | Report abuse

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