David Paterson's Last Good Act

Mocked in office, the governor goes out on a roll

Paterson himself never had a chance once Saturday Night Live decided this first blind state chief executive made for great comedy. It was all supposed to be great good fun: a Paterson look-alike squinting cross-eyed away from the camera, a budget forecast graph held hilariously upside down. Paterson complained and then finally gave in. "You poked so much fun at me for being blind," he said on a late-September appearance on the show, "that I forgot I was black."

But if you want to see inspiring video, skip the SNL reruns and dig out the website of the National Federation of the Blind (nfbny.org/media.htm), where there's a clip of Paterson addressing its October 2009 New York state convention. The governor is introduced by his friend, federation president Carl Jacobsen, a blind New Yorker who has known Paterson for more than 20 years. "I can think of no David better to conquer this Goliath," Jacobsen says by way of introduction. The crowd breaks into joyous, foot-stomping, cheers, whoops, and whistles. It goes on for a full minute. You can see the joy and pride on their faces: He's blind just like us, and he's the governor. Paterson wipes his eyes a couple of times. The video's too fuzzy to tell if it's tears, but he's clearly moved. "After a reception like that, all I can say is it's great to be blind," he tells them. More cheers.

Paterson tells the story of being forcefully led at the age of five by his mother into a schoolroom in Hempstead, past a teacher who suggested a blind boy would be out of place. "I won't compare it to the desegregation of Little Rock," Paterson says, "but 10 minutes later I was seated in that classroom." More cheers.

You look at the video and wonder what he might have been able to accomplish had the cards fallen more his way. He's got a couple more days in office, and there are applications for clemency on his desk just as worthy as the ones he's already granted, while requiring even greater political courage. Let's hope he finds it. In the meantime, here's a cup of kindness for auld lang syne for David Paterson, who made New York history.

trobbins@villagevoice.com

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