September 24, 2009
Reluctant Governor Explains: ‘I Did Not Sign Up for This’
By DANNY HAKIM and JEREMY W. PETERS
ALBANY — In unusually revealing remarks, Gov. David A. Paterson said on Wednesday that he never envisioned himself becoming governor and that he is trying to do the best with the situation he has found himself in.
Speaking at a luncheon organized by The Associated Press, Mr. Paterson said that when he ran for lieutenant governor in 2006 on a ticket with Eliot Spitzer, he had hoped that then-Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton would later become president and Mr. Spitzer would appoint him to her seat.
“I did not sign up for this,” Mr. Paterson said. “I wanted to be lieutenant governor. I had this grand plan that Hillary Clinton was going to become president. Maybe the governor would appoint me to the Senate.”
Things obviously did not work out that way. He became governor after Mr. Spitzer resigned amid a prostitution scandal, and Mrs. Clinton did leave the Senate, but to become secretary of state in President Obama’s cabinet.
"So I’m still here with all of you," he said.
The remarks at the luncheon in Syracuse were strikingly candid; while many politicians harbor such ambitions and suffer such disappointments, very seldom do they share them openly.
Mr. Paterson said he was willing to accept the challenge of leading the state, but his frustration surfaced at times, as he attempted to explain the reasons behind his unpopularity and spoke about fellow Democrats he believes are trying to undermine him.
The comments come in the wake of this week’s revelations that the Obama administration wants him out of the 2010 governor’s race.
The governor also expressed suspicions about his rival, Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo, whom most Democrats expect to be the party’s nominee for governor next year. Asked what role he thought Mr. Cuomo played in the White House’s effort to discourage him from running, Mr. Paterson said jokingly, “I’m sure it didn’t bother him.”
“You know, I don’t know of any tangible role that he may have played,” he continued. “A number of people connected to him certainly did that. And that, I think, that is what confused some of the confidential conversations that were held.”
He also said that “if I got to a point where I thought that my candidacy was hurting my party, obviously it would be rather self-absorbed to go forward.”
But he said that some of those saying he should step aside because of party loyalty had not been so loyal themselves.
“I would hope that they would follow the precepts in what is the rule of equity,” he said, “that you come to the table with clean hands.”
Responding to the comments, a senior aide to Mr. Cuomo said the attorney general’s office had “no knowledge or involvement” in the Obama administration’s plans. The aide spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid being drawn into a war of words with Mr. Paterson.
The governor’s wife, Michelle Paige Paterson, also criticized President Obama on Wednesday for intervening in the New York election.
“I had never heard of a president asking a sitting governor not to run,” Mrs. Paterson said after a luncheon in New York City, according to NBC New York. “I thought it was very unusual and very unfair.”
“At first glimpse this looked like a situation that wasn’t so great for David, having the president ask him to step out of the race, but you never know,” she added. “This may give David the opportunity to show who he is to New Yorkers.”
Mr. Paterson, for his part, blamed his political problems on the economy and the tough budget cuts it required him to make.
“If you ever wanted to know the plan or the course you could take to become unpopular, be governor of this state starting March 17, 2008,” he said. “No matter who you are, I guarantee you, no one will like you.”