New NY Governor Pushes For Bipartisanship

Given the circumstances under which he will become governor, Lt. Gov. David Paterson must have been ready Thursday when a reporter asked: Have you ever patronized a prostitute?

"Only the lobbyists," he cracked in his first news conference since Gov. Eliot Spitzer announced his resignation Wednesday after being snared in a call-girl investigation.

It has been frequently noted since Spitzer's shocking downfall that Paterson, when he takes office Monday, will become the first legally blind U.S. governor and the first black New York chief executive in history. In Albany, however, it may be more significant that he is expected to bring humor and collegiality to a town where both had been scarce even before the scandal broke.

"I'm hopeful we will be able to proceed with a more professional and collegial basis," said Republican Sen. George Winner. "If he's a success, we're successful in getting our work done."

Spitzer's crusading, abrasive style helped launch the Democrat from attorney general to the governor's office in 2006, but it angered Republicans including arguably the second-most-powerful person in state government, Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno.

Paterson, who spent 20 years in the state Senate, has a smoother relationship with the opposition. The 53-year-old Harlem Democrat sought to soothe a stunned state and fractious government Thursday.

"We will all commit ourselves in a bipartisan way to building a relationship that will restore the public trust in our government," he said at the news conference in a packed Red Room, a ceremonial setting where governors frequently address the media.

Spitzer resigned Wednesday after being exposed as a client in a high-priced prostitution ring.

"This has been a very sad few days in the history of New York, and for me, it's been sadder," Paterson said. "My heart goes out to Eliot Spitzer, his wife, his daughters and his parents."

Paterson said that when he reluctantly accepted the job as lieutenant governor, he told Spitzer that "I would be prepared in the event I had to assume authority."

"I am prepared," Paterson said.

Though legally blind, Paterson has enough sight in his right eye to walk unaided, recognize people at conversational distance and even read if the text is close to his face.

When he mentions his disability, it's usually as a punch line. In 2006, he described Spitzer as the visionary and himself as the legislative technician, "because I sure don't have the vision."

Lawmakers say they hope the former legislator, with solid relationships on both sides of the aisle, will usher in cooperation beyond any traditional honeymoon. Bruno has hinted at cooperation with Paterson and a genuine fondness for the next governor.

"David Paterson has been a friend for many years," said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver of Manhattan, the Legislature's most powerful Democrat.

As a senator, Paterson pushed some liberal causes while also chipping away at the Republican majority - neither of which will soon be forgotten. But Paterson said governing is not the same as being a lawmaker: "In the Legislature, you are an advocate."

"We'll have to see if he has moderated," Winner said, citing Paterson's past that rankled gun owners and New Yorkers who support the death penalty. "He would have trouble getting elected on his own."

Paterson will be officially sworn in at 1 p.m. Monday, an hour after Spitzer's resignation takes effect.

Paterson, his salt-and-pepper beard getting saltier these days, allowed for a rare moment of reflection on his against-the-odds rise in politics.

"In some ways, I feel that I'm sitting on a sand castle that other people built," Paterson said. "There are so many African Americans, both men and women throughout the past couple of centuries who have struggled unremittingly to try to advance opportunity for all people and for themselves.

"The fact that it has taken this long is sad," Paterson said. "But if it in any way allows for African Americans and for those who are disabled ... to whatever extent my presence impresses upon employers or impresses upon younger people who are like me in either way, or Hispanics or women, we've never had a governor from one of those communities, then I would feel very privileged, very proud and very flattered to be in this position."