Gov. David Paterson, the Phenomenon

Paterson, as he deals with staggering and unprecedented fiscal problems, seems ready to tackle any issue

Our legally blind governor took office suddenly after the stunningly unexpected resignation of Gov. Eliot Spitzer. And, so far, he has done well. Even as he dispenses bad news about needing budget cuts of, first, $1 billion, then $2 billion and most recently forecasting a budget gap of $47 billion over the next three and a half years, he is cool and determined. He seems unfazed by the adversity that has overtaken the state and millions of fellow New Yorkers.

Even the resignation under fire of his right-hand man, Chief of Staff Charles O'Byrne, for failing to pay taxes, hasn't seriously damaged Paterson's reputation. Nor did his admission, soon after he took office last St. Patrick's Day, of extra-marital liaisons, dealt a serious blow to his ability to govern.

Paterson, as he deals with staggering and unprecedented fiscal problems, seems ready to tackle any issue, no matter how difficult. He has called on the people of New York to be ready to accept sacrifices. It's expected that soon the Legislature will be asked to cut the two largest items in the budget, Medicaid and education. A major aide to the governor told me: ''Everything is on the table.''

The governor comes from a political family. His father, Basil, was part of the famous "gang of four," a couple of generations ago.  This quartet of young, ambitious Harlem politicians included David Dinkins, Charles Rangel and Percy Sutton. Although he had a disability, his blindness, David was determined to make his own way in politics. He rose through party ranks to become Minority Leader of the State Senate and then Eliot Spitzer picked him for lt. governor. No one -- certainly not Spitzer or Paterson -- expected that the new lieutenant governor would soon succeed Spitzer.

He is quick and funny. He demonstrated his wit when he was applauded by people gathered in the Red Room as he entered his first news conference as governor. He said: "Thank you. If most of you weren't being paid, I'd be flattered by that."  
He can't read them so he memorizes his speeches and delivers them confidently, almost flawlessly. 
When I interviewed Paterson in the year before he became governor, I asked him:  what advice would you give a young person who is visually or physically impaired on what he or she can accomplish?
"I think," he said, "that obstacles are only the barriers that lie between yourself and your goal. And as much as you think about your goal and fantasize about it, each time you do you're taking a step in favor it and you're eliminating the obstacle."  He reflected:  ''When I was younger, I would pull away from people when they tried to assist me. As I've  gotten a little wiser in my years, I've learned there aren't always that many people that do help you. You should cherish and feel blessed when they offer it.''

At a time of deep financial crisis, Paterson offers the people of New York courage and leadership.

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