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Paterson’s year to clean up Albany begins

January 6, 2010
By MICHAEL GORMLEY, Associated Press Writer

ALBANY - Gov. David Paterson on Wednesday called for turning New York into a national model of economic strength and trust in government - both now in tatters from historic fiscal and ethical crises.

''This is the winter of our reckoning,'' Paterson told a joint session of the Legislature in his State of the State speech.

He said government by ''popular will'' has devolved into ''the will to be popular,'' resulting in more power for special interests, avoiding hard decisions on spending, and creating a ''culture of addiction'' to political power.

Article Photos

Gov. David Paterson
(Enterprise file photo)

''We have to rise to the high expectations of the people,'' Paterson said. ''The public wants bolder and more decisive initiatives to win back their confidence.''

The Democrat said he would introduce ethics legislation to limit the influence of special interests that have helped drive more spending than New Yorkers can afford. He also wants a new independent agency to enforce ethics laws. And he proposed term limits for elected officials, including the governor, and requirements that ''any state officers,'' including legislators, disclose their outside business ties.

He called for curbing the state's notorious overspending and for creating jobs, in part by renewing New York's once mighty manufacturing sector. Among his proposals is the acquisition and renewal of abandoned factories for sale back to the private sector.

Politically weak as he runs for election in November, Paterson also tried to make sure the speech isn't his last major address as governor.

The annual speeches before a joint session of the Legislature are singular events governors typically use to deliver soaring rhetoric and set the year's agenda, while often ignoring political and fiscal obstacles.

But for Paterson, low in both polls and campaign cash, it was a performance that would test whether he can extend his run in the role he inherited when Eliot Spitzer resigned in disgrace 21 months ago. So he went with a hard-hitting script.

''Some say that we will not succeed, the story has already been written, the ending is ordained,'' Paterson said. ''The story line is changed and people change. ... I say to all of you today, there is still time to rebuild the Empire State.''

The reviews were mixed.

''I believe David Paterson has come to a fork in the road,'' Edward I. Koch, former Democratic mayor of New York City, said in an interview after Paterson, who is legally blind, delivered the 28-minute speech from memory. ''Do you go along to get along, or do you stand up and say 'no'? He has decided to stand up and say 'no' ... but he's surrounded by saber-toothed tigers.''

Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf said the speech sounds good to the public. ''But the problem is the Legislature won't participate in its own demise ... In the end, people will want to see something done,'' he said.

New York Republican Party Chairman Ed Cox said Paterson basically delivered a GOP message.

Last year's speech was a somewhat rambling dissertation mired in further calls for shared sacrifice during a fiscal crisis and panned by an editorial as ''Dud on Arrival.'' Paterson's points Wednesday came from what the polls say New Yorkers hate most about Albany: Corruption, ethical misbehavior and the power of monied special interests.

Paterson called for drastically lower maximum donations for campaigns, stripping officials of their pensions when convicted of a felony, and disclosure of lawmakers' outside business interests, including consulting and law clients.

''Ain't going to happen,'' said Doug Muzzio, a politics professor at New York City's Baruch College. He noted that the Assembly and Senate, when united, can thwart a governor's most ambitious plans.

''It definitely wasn't a home run and certainly wasn't a triple,'' Muzzio said of the speech. ''It was a base hit.''

Forcing lawmakers to disclose who their clients are and their outside income was a direct shot at the Legislature's top two Democratic leaders: Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver of Manhattan and Senate Conference Leader John Sampson of Brooklyn. Both are members of major law firms close to the powerful Trial Lawyers Association, and both refuse to identify their clients, citing privacy concerns.

''I don't believe it's legal,'' Silver said.

Lawrence Levy of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University said Paterson offered many good, important ideas, ''the question is whether anybody is listening to him or even needs to.''

''From a public policy perspective, that's a real scary thing because in the worst of times you need the toughest leaders, you need people who can command attention and move people to act when it might not seem to be in their self-interest, or to make sacrifices for some greater good,'' Levy said.

''Obviously, he thinks he can ride a fight on the backs of the Legislature to raise his poll numbers,'' said Sen. Kevin Parker, a Brooklyn Democrat, tired of Paterson's tirades against lawmakers.

''I think you sense his frustration,'' Scott Stringer, the Manhattan borough president, said.

But New York City and the state faced fiscal and political crisis in the 1970s, too, and it forced city and state officials, Democrats and Republicans to risk their political careers to make hard decisions, Stringer added.

''Once in a generation you have to put everything on the line,'' he said. ''And now is the time to put everything on the line.''

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Associated Press writer Michael Virtanen contributed to this report.

 
 

 

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