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New York's Accidental Governor Runs For Full Term

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David Paterson launched his re-election bid Saturday. This does not seem likely to go well.

When it comes to money, he's got less than a fourth of the funds his inevitable Democratic opponent, Andrew Cuomo, has collected from the party's fat cat supporters. When it comes to popular support, well , his numbers are lower Eliot Spitzer's were after the hooker scandal broke.

When it comes to message, he's apparently planning to run as an outsider, standing up to the entrenched interests who want Cuomo in the driver's seat. It will be interesting to see how Paterson explains the last 25 years he's spent in Albany.

Paterson made his launch at a low-key and somewhat low-rent gathering in Long Island, to remind people that when he was a boy, his parents moved from New York City to Hempstead so their legally blind son could be in a public school system that offered mainstreaming rather than special ed.

It's a good story, and one that it will be easier for people to remember once he's out of office. But the truth is that the handicap Paterson is really finding it impossible to overcome now is the very Albany-ness he's trying to run against.

No matter how hard he worked as a young man to become a lawyer and a successful politician, he's spent a quarter of a century either as a member of the minority party in the state senate or lieutenant governor - two jobs that entail absolutely no duties except showing up for a lot of events and being pleasant.

Perhaps it's possible to come out of that with your grit and work ethic and organizational ability intact, but Paterson hasn't.

The New York Times profile that finally surfaced this week made it all perfectly clear. (I'm talking about the real profile, not the imaginary one the tabloids were treating like the second coming of the Pentagon papers before publication.) Paterson doesn't work very hard. The people who are closest to him aren't very good. The ones he should be confiding in - particularly Lieutenant Governor Dick Ravitch - aren't very close.

If being governor of New York were a normal job, Paterson might have made a go of it. He's sensible and smart, and if he had any real power to set the state budget and the state priorities, they would probably be pretty good.

But in Albany, it's the legislature that rules. To have any influence on that clan of bozos, the governor has to be very able and very tough. The top legislators have to be scared of him, and nobody is the least bit frightened of David Paterson.

The big question this weekend was why he's doing this. The White House wants him out. Every major Democrat in the state wants him out. (There were no endorsements announced on Saturday. Every Democratic officeholder in the state apparently had someplace else to be. Had to march in a parade, go to Florida, feed the fish ...)

He's running in part because he's been called an accidental governor from Day One, and that hurt him deeply. He's been humiliated by the tabloids, which have been treating him like a combination of Richard Nixon after Watergate and John Edwards after the love baby. The people close to him are probably urging him on, since people close to a top elected official almost always want to see things go in a way that will provide them continued employment.

But it's not going to work, and you can't help wishing for his sake that we could flash-forward a few years, when he'll be back in the private sector. Somebody else will be having a disastrous time being governor and we'll have started to tell each other that David Paterson wasn't all that bad after all.