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Editorial: Make the best of a wasted opportunity

Editorial: Make the best of a wasted opportunity

Legislative leaders need to go easy on Paterson

The roughly 48 hours that elapsed between the first rumors of Eliot Spitzer’s involvement in the Emperor’s Club VIP prostitution ring and his resignation speech seemed like an eternity, with so little acknowledged by the governor in his initial confession Monday and so few details unearthed by the hordes of reporters assigned to the story. Yesterday’s statement didn’t shed much additional light on this incredible, tawdry tale, but at least it’s over with as far as most New Yorkers are concerned, and we — and more importantly, the state — can get back to business.

Spitzer — arrogant, hypocritical sleaze that he is — let New York down in tragic fashion, but he’s history now. About the best that can be said for him is that he had enough political sense not to try toughing it out, which would have been only more humiliating for him and for the state, and created such a distraction in Albany that gridlock would have kept the state’s business from getting done. As most New Yorkers are aware right now, the state has issues it can ill afford to ignore.

Foremost among them is the budget, which by law must be passed in just 19 days. This is no ordinary budget year, as lawmakers have to figure out how to close a $4.7 billion gap without killing an already weak economy. Spitzer’s proposals for doing so weren’t exactly met with universal acclaim, thus there’s much negotiating to do. But not much time. Ironically, David Paterson may have more luck getting it done, given a personal style that is far less confrontational than Spitzer’s. It’s also possible — and one can only hope true — that the other principal negotiators, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, will be willing to cut Paterson a little slack under the circumstances. Even shotgun weddings deserve a honeymoon.

Paterson may be a virtual unknown elsewhere around the state, but not in Albany, where he’s won bipartisan respect over the years as a hard-working, minority-party senator. Though legally blind, he’s never used his handicap to seek special treatment.

At this point, one can only guess at how his agenda will vary from his predecessor’s, but he shouldn’t necessarily try to distance himself from all of Spitzer’s ideas, including the ethics reform he pushed for, however hypocritically. Spitzer was also a champion for upstate interests, which clearly are needier than those of the Metropolitan New York area and Long Island. Another worthy Spitzer idea was the one to enhance the state university system.

The Spitzer case had the potential to create a real crisis for New York state. His prompt resignation lessens that likelihood, but there’s still going to have to be a break from the Legislature’s business-as-usual, partisan behavior to allow Paterson to get his bearings. We hope that, for a change, Republicans and Democrats can subjugate their political interests for the greater good of all New Yorkers.

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