Paterson in Wonderland: Analysis

Down the rabbit hole we go.

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    NEWSLETTERS

    AP
    Down the rabbit hole we go.

    One of the many odd things about New York's Capitol, with its four grand entrances, is that no one's quite sure of its street address. Those watching this week figure it's somewhere close to Wonderland.

         "We didn't just fall through the rabbit hole, we fell through a rabbit hole and ended up in an outlandish soap opera,'' said Michael Tobman, a political strategist with experience in Albany who once worked for Democratic U.S. Senator Charles Schumer.
        
    Gov. David Paterson stared down an unprecedented storm of unsubstantiated rumors of personal indiscretions this week -- when The New York Times began reporting for a story about him -- that came as he began stepping up his election campaign.
        
    Paterson stood before TV news cameras, reporters and CNN's Larry King to take the news media to task over what he called baseless attacks and lamented the "sleazy'' depths to which Albany has sunk. At the same time, his veto of an ethics bill withstood an override attempt by an angry Legislature that had overwhelmingly approved it days before.
        
    For those who've criticized him for weak follow-through on tough talk, this week he stood up against formidable forces. And he was still standing days later.
        
    "He had a good week,'' said Tobman. "What you're seeing is consistent with David Paterson, the highs and the lows. He has these flashes of aggressive competence and then the question is what the follow-through is going to be, if any. That would be another one of those flashes of aggressive competence.''
        
    Doug Muzzio, politics professor at New York City's Baruch College, said Paterson finished the week looking better than the Times and the tabloids. By standing up to the rumors and vetoing what Muzzio called "the woefully inadequate ethics bill,'' Paterson "may not only survive this, but actually benefit,'' provided the rumors subside, Muzzio said.
        
    The long view, however, remains tough for Paterson in his uphill campaign.
        
    "You can make some hay politically out of attacking the media, that's been going on for more than a generation,'' said Lee Miringoff of the Marist College poll. "The problem is that there's been so many politicians of late who have vigorously denied allegations that turned out to be accurate, not that this is the case. But politicians and Gov. Paterson don't have a lot of credibility and trust with voters.''
        
    He said that's in part thanks to former presidential candidate John Edwards, who eventually confessed to an extramarital affair, and South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, who was caught in an affair with an Argentine woman after he visited her while saying he was hiking the Appalachian Trail.
        
    Weighing against Paterson is the lack of high poll numbers and a fiscal crisis that has incumbents nationwide drawing the anger of voters.
        
    Paterson's next hurdle also surfaced this week.
        
    He's being criticized over the choice he and Democratic legislative leaders made for an operator of lucrative video slot machines at Aqueduct racetrack. The Senate's Republican minority plans hearings into allegations of political favoritism, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver called for a review by Inspector General Joseph Fisch.
        
    And this election year is just six weeks old.
        
    Rumors of personal indiscretions are notoriously hard to prove and even harder to disprove. But it "does have political damage, and the damage is real,'' Miringoff said a day before late night TV's Jimmy Kimmel took shots at Paterson.
        
    "Some may argue he's being unfairly dealt with. But there's nothing to suggest he's turning the corner,'' he said. "He's really got to come off the canvas at some point and there's no sense the state (economy) is going to do a major reversal of fortune here, so he's the incumbent and it's not an enviable position to be in.''
        
    As for Paterson, he said the "orchestrated'' attack by innuendo shows he is the guy New Yorkers can depend on -- and the guy many in Albany want out of the way.
        
    "If I was doing as poorly as I read sometimes, you would think they would just let me rot on the vine,'' Paterson told The Associated Press on Monday in his first comments on the rumor campaign.
        
    "It's very clear that I'm not going to be intimidated by the special interests, I'm not going to be pushed around by the Legislature and I'm going to defend the people of the state of New York and I think that they recognize that,'' he said. "So clearly the only way to get me out, apparently, is to libel me.''