It took about seven hours for new New York governor David Paterson to get into some hot water for past indiscretions.
Coming on the heels of the Spitzer scandal, it seemed that the new governor might have to fight for his position. Instead, it appears he has been given a free pass. There are a number of reasons why almost no one is looking to remove Paterson, from scandal fatigue to the fact that he is a popular, well-known figure in Albany, to the reality that the affairs were just a personal matter.
There is another unstated but critical reason that there are no calls for Paterson’s head: His removal would be disastrous for the Republican Party.
It seems counterintuitive that the Republicans would want Paterson, a Democrat, to remain in office. After all, if Paterson steps down, Senate Majority Leader and acting Lt. Gov. Joseph Bruno would immediately take over as governor, leading the Republicans to regain the state’s most powerful position.
But Bruno’s ascension would be a very temporary pyrrhic victory for the party.
According to the law, Bruno would only be allowed to serve as an acting governor for three months, after which the state would hold a new election for the position. Just looking at the possible contenders for a gubernatorial race show how much trouble the Republicans would be in. The Democrats have at least two heavyweight contenders for the nomination, Sen. Charles Schumer, one of the most popular politicians in the state who was rumored to covet the governor’s chair in both 1998 and 2006, and Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. There are also a number of strong second choices, such as Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi and Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy.
The grass is most certainly not greener on the Republican’s side. The 78-year old Bruno, currently under investigation, would not be the party’s standard bearer. There are three possible top contenders to choose from, and there is an excellent chance none of them is interested in running. One is New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who just recently gave up his Republican Party affiliation and reregistered as an independent and who passed on a presidential try. Former mayor and recently failed presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani is a second possibility, though he might have had enough of electoral politics, for this year at least. The third is former Gov. George Pataki, who certainly does not look like he is interested in moving back to the governor’s mansion. After those three, the Republican bench is effectively barren. They hold none of the statewide elected offices and control very few of the important mayor or county executives positions throughout the state.
It is also possible the Democrats would try to delay the election, so that it would be held in November in conjunction with the presidential race, where the Democrats are likely to win. The November election is already threatening to lead to a Democratic avalanche in the state, one that could usher in a new era of Democratic dominance, sweep away some of the Republicans’ remaining elected officials and topple the party’s historic rock, the state Senate. Adding a gubernatorial race to the mix will give the Democrats further impetus — and money — to increase turnout, which will help bottom-of-the-line races for the party, possibly positioning the Democrats to win the seats necessary to take over the Senate.
On the other hand, if Paterson stays in office, there is a potential for a Republican resurgence down the road. He is an unknown quantity on the bigger stage, and while he may prove to be fantastic, he may also prove to be either mediocre or disastrous. If Paterson stays in office, he could well face a primary challenge from one or more of the heavyweight Democratic candidates throughout the state. Such a primary battle will undoubtedly be divisive — no Democrat will forget the devastating effect of Ted Kennedy’s primary challenge to sitting President Jimmy Carter in 1980, and could help a Republican in 2010.
By 2010, it is possible that the Republicans will grow a serious gubernatorial contender from their lower ranks, or that Bloomberg or Giuliani will be clamoring to get in the contest. Furthermore, the Democrats may be in for some hard times after two years in control of Washington and New York. After all, in 1994, just two years after the Democrats gained control of the presidency, a backlash swept the Republicans into power in both houses of Congress and helped Pataki beat former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo.
There is good reason that nobody is pushing for Gov. Paterson to resign. For the Democrats, it would be disloyal. But for the Republicans, it would be much worse — a self-inflicted disaster. The Republican Party would get a few months of peace and power, at a tremendous cost.
They, more than anyone else in the state, wish Paterson well.
Joshua Spivak, a lawyer and public relations executive, is a research fellow at the Hugh L. Carey Center for Government Reform at Wagner College in Staten Island.