Monday, September 28, 2009

Ravitch to the Rescue After Obama Falters

Last week, we learned that President Obama has pressured Governor Paterson to step aside in the 2010 gubernatorial race. We also learned that Richard Ravitch is now the Lieutenant Governor of New York State. If we had heard the good news on Ravitch earlier, perhaps we never would have heard the bad news on Obama.

Ravitch to the Rescue

In July, Governor Paterson appointed Ravitch as Lieutenant Governor to fill the seat that Paterson himself vacated to become Governor when Elliot Spitzer resigned in disgrace. At the time, the New York State legislature was in turmoil because the State Senate was evenly split between supporters of the Republican Party and the Democratic Party. A Lieutenant Governor would have provided a tie-breaking vote.

But, many disputed the constitutionality of the appointment of Ravitch, a public servant with a spotless reputation and a history of achievement. The lowest courts rejected the appointment as unconstitutional. No Lieutenant Governor had ever been appointed despite the fact that the position had been unoccupied at times.

Last week, the highest court in New York State sided with Paterson and declared that Ravitch's appointment was constitutional. We are confident that Ravitch will serve with distinction.

Perhaps if the support of the courts for the Ravitch appointment had come earlier, the President would have saved himself and Governor Paterson a great deal of embarrassment.

Obama Falters

President Obama has pressured Governor Paterson to drop out of the 2010 race to retain his post at the helm of the executive branch of the government in New York State.

If the timing had been different, President Obama could have appointed Governor Paterson to a high post at the national level and allowed the new Lt. Governor to become the new Governor in New York State. Instead, such an appointment was unrealistic until last week because there was no Lt. Governor. The succession plan for New York State was unclear, and Governor Paterson would have been viewed as irresponsible if he had vacated the Governor's post without clarity regarding who would lead New York State thereafter.

The clumsy and public manner of President Obama's efforts to undermine Governor Paterson seem so unlike President Obama. Obama is a master poker player who keeps his cards close to his vest. One wonders whether President Obama is already losing his touch or if there is something (or someone) outside of team Obama driving the White House attacks on Paterson.

The most recent editorial in the Amsterdam News expressed the views of many. Paterson should refuse to follow the guidance of the President. He should run in 2010. His best revenge will be victory.
And what an unfortunate spectacle for our community to see: its first African-American president asking only the third Black governor since Reconstruction and the first African-American governor in the State of New York's history to quit without a fight.

A governor who, in a short and difficult time, has been able to end the dreaded Rockefeller Laws, get our famously unruly Legislature to settle on a budget on time, and lead the MTA out of its most serious financial crisis in recent memory. And on Tuesday the Court of Appeals ruled that Paterson pick Richard Ravitch could indeed serve as lieutenant governor. The former MTA chief had been handpicked by Governor Paterson, leading to some Republicans to file a legal challenge.

They begin to throw out “If Giuliani runs,” trying to scare folks into saying that Paterson cannot take him on. But does Giuliani want to run? Does he want to be governor? Does he want to deal with the headache of a crazy Legislature? Does he want to do the work? Does Giuliani want to do the fundraising and campaigning so soon after his crushing and humiliating defeat in last year’s presidential race? And is his donor base ready to invest in him after his poor showing when he was presumed to be the front-runner in that race as well? And has he even paid off his debts that he ran up for his presidential bid?We don’t know what the mercurial Giuliani has on his mind. And we do not expect to know until after the November elections. So why ask Paterson to bow out now? Why not wait until November, or longer, to make any kind of decision? Giuliani does pose a clear challenge to the governor. He plays to the worst instincts of white New Yorkers. From his days of inciting a police riot against David Dinkins before he became mayor, to ignoring Black and Hispanic New York City residents and criticizing Black male victims of police brutality, it was an ugly reign of terror for people of color during his eight years here in New York City. But there is a catch-22 or a “chicken before the egg” scenario here. If Paterson stays in the race, does Giuliani get in? If Giuliani gets into the race, does Paterson get out? If Paterson gets out and Giuliani stays out, Andrew Cuomo sweeps Rick Lazio—but anyone could mop the floor with Lazio—so, in that case, why doesn’t Paterson stay in? The whole house of cards is built upon the assumption that Giuliani will run. That is not a foregone conclusion, far from it. And maybe this time New Yorkers will rise above the demagogue tactics of the visceral former mayor. Getting Paterson out would create a free ride for Cuomo to the governor’s mansion, unopposed by a person of color in a primary. And the Cuomo family has not earned that. Make Andrew Cuomo earn our votes. Don’t let him be anointed. And Gov. Paterson, stay in the race. You can still win.

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