The press and the pollsters are at it again.
Six months before the primary election, they have consigned Governor David Paterson to political oblivion.
The headlines made that clear. Last weekend, when Paterson made his announcement that he was running again, the New York Post front page headline read: "Party of One. ‘I’m Running,’ Gov Says to Empty Room." And the newspaper was accurate in describing a campaign that began at Hofstra University in a room where only a few Democratic officials were on hand.
Yet there seems to be an effort by some of my colleagues in the press to destroy Paterson even before there’s a campaign. And that doesn’t seem right.
Remember the last days of last year’s mayoral race? The major polls predicted that Mayor Bloomberg would beat Bill Thompson by up to 18 points. The Quinnipiac Poll had Bloomberg leading by 12 points. The Marist Poll gave Bloomberg a lead of 15 points.
The actual result: Thompson lost by less than 5 points.
So here we go again!
Paterson kicked off his campaign in Hempstead, his law school alma mater, by telling the small crowd: "Judge me on what I’ve done!….so many people are saying I shouldn’t run for governor. But you need to know that this is a governor that does not quit."
His poll numbers are abysmal. And he has raised a mere 3 million dollars against the 16 million already raised by his still unannounced but presumed opponent, Andrew Cuomo. But the guy won’t quit.
The subtext is that the Democratic Party establishment seems determined to destroy this man politically. President Obama has signaled he wants Paterson out of the race. As he girds for the national mid-term elections in November, Obama is undoubtedly concerned about having a strong man in the State House in Albany at the head of the New York ticket, leading a surge of Democratic Congress people back to Washington.
It has been a strange campaign, or non-campaign, so far. For weeks, in the gossip mill, reporters traded rumors that the Times was about to break a big story that might destroy Paterson. In the surreal world the journalists of 2010 inhabit, rumors can take on a life of their own, as news organizations and blogs clamor competitively for the public’s attention. There were personal and sexual innuendos swirling around out there. Each news outfit wanted to be the one to break the big story, whatever it was.
The thing had comic overtones. Here was a group of presumably sophisticated news gatherers trying to beat the Times to its own story! It was something I have never experienced in a half century or so on the beat.
When the Times finally broke the long-awaited story, it turned out to carry as much excitement as a wet noodle. The headline was: "Paterson Aide’s Quick Rise Draws Scrutiny." It was a front page account of the rise of Paterson’s confidant, David Johnson --and his troubled life as a teenager. The fact that Johnson is 6 foot 7 and that our legally blind governor needs the man to lead him through crowds were added details.
The long rumored story was not Watergate. It left some in the journalistic profession thinking: What? Is that all there is?
The latest poll numbers from Siena show Paterson trailing Cuomo by 42 points. That might be enough to discourage candidates of fainter heart. But not Paterson. He insists there’s a smear campaign against him and he won’t let "innuendo and ridicule and false rumors" drive him out. Over the weekend, Paterson and Emanuel met at a White House dinner but the governor insists his decision to run did not come up.
And, speaking of stout hearts, one Paterson supporter, former Mayor David Dinkins, is not afraid to brave the ire of the White House. Dinkins told me today: "Next weekend, I’ll be standing right next to David Paterson when he speaks to a rally of supporters in Harlem. And I will endorse him for election."
As for the avalanche of negative stories and the lack of endorsements for Paterson from Democratic leaders, Dinkins says: "I would say that reports of his political demise are greatly exaggerated. And I will stand proudly beside him in Harlem next weekend and I’ll campaign for him. I won’t count him out."
The most significant question is: will the pollsters and pundits decide who should be the Democratic candidate or will we let the voters decide?