For a few brief moments, once when Mario Cuomo became governor and then when Eliot Spitzer took the reins, it looked like we might see some changes in the way things are done in Albany. In both cases, things stayed the same. Despite his low poll numbers, David Paterson is a good man; but when he took office, he decided to take a different path from that of his predecessor. As the son of an insider and a lifelong insider himself, he concluded that there was no good reason to challenge the system. He knew how it worked, and he worked it. For a while, things went his way. Paterson made friends with Shelly Silver and got along with his former Senate colleague, Malcolm Smith. Paterson had been a good friend of Joe Bruno’s. One of the worst things that happened to the new governor was that Bruno was forced out, and the next guy up on the Republican side was the far more belligerent Dean Skelos. His numbers took a dive after Kirsten Gillibrand became Senator and after Team Paterson trashed Caroline Kennedy.
Now we have more “same old, same old” than ever before. True, we got a fairly on-time budget, but it was laden with good old-fashioned pork. The stimulus money that was used to close the gap might be a good thing, assuming the recession is over in two years when that money runs out. If it isn’t, there will be a gaping hole in that year’s budget.
If the Democrats screw it up and run a weakened governor and Barack Obama is not leading the ticket in a national election, the Democrats could lose the Senate. The consequent redistricting and gerrymandering could keep the Republicans in power for a long time to come. If Paterson’s numbers stay low, you can expect he will be visited upon by senior Democrats asking him to step aside. Then enter Andrew Cuomo.
The Democrats know that the state is getting bluer and bluer. The trick in these treacherous economic times is to play it straight and do what is good for the people, not what’s good for their special-interest friends. They have to understand that if they go back to the insider, lobbyist-driven clubhouse days, they will be cutting their own throats. And, of course, it goes without saying that the longer the voters look the other way and don’t pay attention, the longer these folks will continue on their current path to failure.
Alan S. Chartock is president and CEO of WAMC/Northeast Public Radio and an executive publisher at The Legislative Gazette.
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