In New York yesterday it was Day 442 for Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who left office after a disappointing term and a disastrous week, and Day One for Gov. David Paterson. At his inaugural, Paterson was warm, humble and funny, if not fuzzy, a striking contrast to Spitzer. He made no promise that everything would change, as Spitzer had done, or even gave any indication it might. For those interested in reform, including the huge majority that voted for Spitzer, that could be cause for concern.
In his speech, Paterson had something nice, and amusing, to say about all the key players, including Spitzer’s biggest nemesis, Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, and even Assembly Minority Leader James Tedisco. As former Senate minority leader, Paterson knows them and has worked with them all. After 14 months of antagonism and, at times, derision from Spitzer, Paterson’s words undoubtedly felt like a balm. “He’s one of us,” they must have thought.
If that means getting necessary business done, rather than scheming and squabbling, it could be a good thing. But if it means business as usual in Albany — with the corrupting influence of money, low ethical expectations of office holders, and a secretive system where the leaders call the shots and rank-and-file legislators dutifully go along — that wouldn’t be so good. Paterson did advocate reforms when he was Senate minority leader, almost all of which were thwarted by the majority. Now he is in a real position to do something about reform, and he should use it.
One of his first tests will be the budget. The way it has worked in the past is that, after months of stalemate, differences between the governor and leaders have been papered over by using financial gimmickry, and increasing spending and borrowing. With a $4.5 billion budget deficit, and the state and national economy facing a recession, there need to be tough decisions and fiscal restraint, and Paterson in his speech yesterday did acknowledge and call for that.
Another test could come soon on an issue vital to Schenectady. If the Assembly, as expected, joins the Senate and approves a union-driven bill that would undo a court decision and strip the police commissioner of the power to discipline officers, will Paterson veto it, as Spitzer did? If Paterson signed such legislation, we would have to seriously question his commitment to reform.