New York Lt. Gov. David Paterson will become the state's first African-American governor and only the third black governor in the U.S. since Reconstruction on Monday. Paterson ascends to the post after fellow Democrat Eliot Spitzer resigned on Wednesday amid allegations that he is involved in a high-end prostitution ring.
Paterson is said to be a man who speaks his mind but gets along well with and is well-respected by politicians on both sides of the aisle. This is quite a change from a governor who made enemies among both parties.
Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch called him humble.
"There is a humility quality which is very endearing. He is a good listener, and I believe that he will be a very competent governor," Koch says.
Paterson is the son of Basil Paterson, a former minority leader in the state Senate. Like his father, the younger Paterson was also a state senator — starting in the mid-'80s — and became the Senate minority leader in 2002. He was elected New York's lieutenant governor in 2006.
Currently, the New York state Senate has a one-vote Republican majority, and the Democrats could seize control in November. Many observers predicted that Paterson would have become the powerful Senate majority leader had he stayed, so some were surprised that he took the job of lieutenant governor.
And there were tensions between him and Spitzer — which he handled with humor. In a story by Albany reporter Karen DeWitt not long after he became lieutenant governor, Paterson joked that he was determined not to be an afterthought.
"The previous job of lieutenant governor is to wake up very early in the morning and call the governor's private line. And if he answers, you can go back to sleep — your work is done for the day," Paterson said.
Paterson, who lives with his family in Harlem, is completely blind in one eye; in the other, he can see people only up close. He doesn't use a cane or guide dog.
He's also steeped in literature. He has been known to quote Dostoyevsky at press briefings.
Comments Paterson made about Spitzer not long after they took office in 2007 seem stunning in light of Wednesday's events, when his boss resigned, effective Monday.
"He is not afraid of risk. It is part of him. It is a part of his nomenclature, and it is part of his conduct, and that is what I love him for," Paterson said. "I am one who is a little more risk-averse than Eliot but find that he touches that part of me that wants to take chances and wants to make things happen and make them happen quickly."
But it is exactly this modesty and ability to listen that sets Paterson very much apart from Spitzer, and many in Albany should find it a relief.
"I think David is intellectually gifted, and I think his personality reaches out to others in a different way," says Sheldon Silver, the Democratic leader of the New York State Assembly.
Even Republicans like Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno — Spitzer's archrival — have had cordial relations with Paterson.
"We partnered on a number of things, and we have an excellent relationship," Bruno says.
So there may be more bipartisanship in a Paterson administration.
But here's a conundrum: the New York Constitution says if the governor is out of the state, the lieutenant governor takes over. If there is no lieutenant governor — which there won't be when Paterson becomes governor — than whenever the governor leaves the state, power goes to the next in line. That's Bruno.
So when Paterson becomes governor, he could find Democrats insisting that he never leave the state.