David Paterson: I'm Not Going

He may have given up on the election, but New York’s embattled governor is barely hanging on. Lloyd Grove reports on his first—sad and feeble—public remarks since ending his campaign.

Seth Wenig / AP Photo

It was, for David Paterson and his audience at Monday’s New York Observer breakfast, the morning of the living dead.

“It’s not that there are other places I could have been this morning,” New York’s scandal-ridden governor joked feebly. “Whatever it is I’m afflicted with, I’m surprised that I could be anywhere.”

There was predictable laughter from crowd at Club 101 on Park Avenue—largely union types, business execs, and loyal Democrats who seemed overcome by a bittersweet emotion verging on pity.

It was all so “Other than that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?”

Observer Editor Kyle Pope, presiding over the spectacle, got right to the point. His first question: Does Paterson have the political authority to carry out his duties, and if he decides that he doesn’t, is he ready to resign?

“I already have the authority, so I don’t have to make the second decision,” Paterson shot back. “I’m the governor. That’s why you invited me.”

The audience responded with warm applause. It would have been Paterson’s best moment at the breakfast were it not for the grave circumstances he could barely bring himself to acknowledge (and everybody else was too polite to harp on):

He is—stick-a-fork-in-him—done.

Lee Siegel: The Paterson Scandal Is OverblownAnd yet the governor has apparently managed, at least in his own mind, to construct an alternative reality, a kind of Bizarro World in which he is not being hounded daily by lurid tabloid headlines about his questionable role in a top aide’s domestic-violence case, in which Albany’s power brokers are not striving to push him aside and render him irrelevant, and there is absolutely no prospect of even more damaging revelations in the media about his conduct in office.

Paterson declared: “Think about the world for the next 306 days”—yes, unbelievably, there are 306 days remaining in his term—“where I could make decisions and I won’t have to hear a robotic response from the legislature that ‘He’s doing this for politics, he’s doing this to get the poll numbers up, he’s running against the legislature because we’re more unpopular.’”

No, but his growing army of detractors will undoubtedly be saying worse things.

What makes all this so sad is that that the 55-year-old Paterson is a likable, witty, and genuinely talented man—a legally blind overachiever who can, as he proved this morning, speak compellingly about New York’s budget crisis and what ought to be done about it, complete with a dizzying array of facts and figures, and all without notes. It’s a skill that few sighted politicians could match.

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And yet, it was all so “Other than that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?”

“You were excellent,” one matronly woman told him as she wrapped her arms around him—a long, lingering, consoling hug for a terminal patient in the political hospice.

Lloyd Grove is editor at large for The Daily Beast. He is also a frequent contributor to New York magazine and was a contributing editor for Condé Nast Portfolio. He wrote a gossip column for the New York Daily News from 2003 to 2006. Prior to that, he wrote the Reliable Source column for the Washington Post, where he spent 23 years covering politics, the media, and other subjects.