The Incoming Governor
On the other hand, as a virtual unknown throughout most of the state, Paterson also has little political capital outside Albany. It’s not even clear whether he will be the most powerful Democrat in the state capital, or whether that role will now fall to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who, along with Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, has ruled Albany for years. Both men are major impediments to change.
To reform New York, Paterson would have to stifle the state legislature’s tendency to overspend on pet projects, grab greater control of state authorities that squander taxpayer resources, and clamp down on out-of-control Medicaid spending. He would also have to seek ways to return democracy to New York State — through promoting initiative and referendum, or through changing the way that legislative districts are drawn in New York, stripping that power from the legislature, which has used it to carve districts in which incumbents are virtually assured of reelection. He could even try both methods.
But despite Paterson’s affability and the respect he garners in Albany as a straight shooter, there’s little in his past to suggest that he’s ready to take on these weighty problems. Instead, with a policy agenda to the left of Spitzer’s, Paterson may turn out to be an agent for even higher spending and higher taxes in New York. Indeed, the Working Families Party, the quasi-socialist party that continuously lobbies for higher taxes in New York (including a recent proposal for a controversial income-tax surcharge on wealthy residents), is closely aligned with Paterson, having helped him gain his previous position as State Senate minority leader.
Paterson will need to work hard merely to bring credibility and a measure of respect back to the governor’s office. New York needs much more than that, though — it needs a long-term program of reform. If Paterson can’t, or won’t, embark on such a program, New Yorkers face another three years in which their state government is in the hands of those who would exploit it and squander taxpayer resources. In that case, other reformers — perhaps Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, or maybe even Rudy Giuliani — would be lining up for a shot at the governor’s office in 2010.
At least, New Yorkers have to hope so.