The political world in New York is buzzing that Governor David Paterson may be close to stepping down amid damaging revelations over the role he played in handling a domestic violence case involving a close aide.
The latest story in the New York Times on Monday evening detailed the extent to which Paterson personally directed state officials to contact the alleged victim has pushed the retirement question to the fore. On Tuesday afternoon, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand said that Paterson should resign if the allegations are true: "But if at the end of the day, if all of the allegations of the abuse of power are true, then the governor will be unable to govern and he will have to step down."
Earlier on Tuesday, the governor reportedly convened a meeting with top Democratic officials in the state to ostensibly discuss state and party business. But the topic of impending ethics investigations and their impact on his political future invariably came up (though none of the attendees publicly called for a resignation). Days earlier, a group of prominent black leaders in the state, including Al Sharpton, Congressman Gregory Meeks, and Assemblyman Darryl Towns convened in New York City to discuss the circus erupting in Albany. The pow-wows aren't being held to rally sympathetic lawmakers to Paterson's defense. But rather to plot what, exactly, can be done moving forward.
"He has no constituency. No voting constituency or political constituency," said one well-connected New York Democratic fundraiser. "Plus, this story is not finished. More revelations are going to come out. At some point there will be an avalanche of people calling for his resignation. The question then is, who gets out ahead of this."
At this juncture, it is still very much an open question as to whether Paterson's decision to forgo reelection will be enough to calm the waters. The governor was widely considered ineffectual before the Times began exploring the seedier underpinnings of his reign in Albany. Now, it's difficult to see any legislative business forthcoming.
But it's not just state business at stake. There's also the issue of Paterson's legacy, whatever is left of it to salvage. A Democrat who has worked with the governor's staff insisted that the best course now -- perhaps the only course -- is for him to resign.
"He should convene a press conference, tell his side of the story, and bow out," the strategist said. "Although I think you can safely say far more New Yorkers and observers are now saying 'Who cares what his side is?'"
The attention of many in the state, indeed, has now shifted to the man that stands in line to replace Paterson should he resign, and what kind of political fireworks will accompany his ascension. At 76, Lt. Gov. Richard Ravitch brings a reputation for strong bureaucratic management to the post, having served as chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and president of the Player Relations Committee for Major League Baseball. Inevitably, he brings more cachet to handle the state's preposterously strenuous budget process, the deadline for which is on April 1. Already, he is held in higher regard than the governor he serves.
But the idea of Ravitch as governor is not without controversy. He never ran on the gubernatorial ticket, having been appointed to the post of lieutenant governor by Paterson. And while that appointment was affirmed by the Court of Appeals in the State of New York -- and would, ostensibly, be re-affirmed if challenged further -- it isn't far-fetched to assume that Republicans will attack him as illegitimate.
Ravitch, on Tuesday, declared his hope that Paterson remains in the post -- granted, anything short of that endorsement would have caused an unbearable media firestorm in Albany.
"I hope very much that he does not resign," he told reporters. "I'm not aware of any compelling reason for him to resign; I think the governor is going to end up doing what he thinks is best for the state of New York."
Ravitch's promotion may be welcome in a state that has experienced its share of distracting controversies at the top and may be enough to quell even the fiercest of partisan divides over his unusual ascension.
"I think there would be a sigh of relief because I think that Ravitch is more respected as a governmental leader right now than Paterson is," said Doug Muzzio, a political scientist at Baruch College and an expert on New York politics. "I wouldn't be sanguine about any chances of getting things done here. But all things being equal it couldn't get much worse."