Barrett: Is Paterson Really So Befuddled, We Need O'Byrne Back?

Governor Paterson says he may bring his former top aide Charles "the Savior" O'Byrne back to run his government. The New York Post says he should. The governor says that people make mistakes and that O'Byrne has already paid a price for his failure to pay state or federal taxes for five years, namely that he was forced to sacrifice his job as secretary to the governor for four full months. Maybe we can write such severe penalties into the tax code. Apparently, if the Post and Paterson are to be taken seriously, it's time for the state tax commissioner, as well as everyone else in positions of power in Paterson's government, to report to O'Byrne again.

After all, we were told when O'Byrne resigned abruptly last fall that he didn't pay taxes because he was too "depressed" to file. But with a $15 billion deficit, New York needs a depressive to tell an overwhelmed governor what to do, apparently.

The Times story this morning even marveled at how well O'Byrne managed the information flow to the blind governor, restricting it to those who could talk in the soundbites he scripted. O'Byrne, meanwhile, was manning his own "dedicated switchboard" from dawn to way-after-dusk, making calls as Paterson's stand-in, the Times also reported. Bring back the Ventriloquist, the two papers seemed to be shouting from opposite sides of the ideological divide. At least something will get done!

Neither paper mentioned that O'Byrne master-mined the Great Caroline Kennedy campaign from a bunker somewhere (even O'Byrne's close friends wouldn't tell me where he was working or hiding, though I was led to believe he was working for an unidentified, Israeli-owned, security company housed near Columbus Circle). In fact, he may only be available to return to Paterson because the job he was said to be expecting with the new Senator Kennedy never materialized. A former Jesuit, he has long been the Kennedy family confessor, and it was the Kennedys who helped repay the nearly $300,000 he owed in taxes. Apparently, O'Byrne's magic spell over Paterson only works if he is positioned 24 hours a day outside the governor's office and can direct him hands-on. With O'Byrne out of sight, Paterson wound up with Kristen Gillibrand.

Tom Daschle, as distinguished a Democrat as there is in the land, had to step aside because he failed to report a car and driver as income, yet O'Byrne is seen as ready to run this state though he failed to report at all. For years at a time. Even while he was the top adviser to a senate minority leader and a lieutenant governor and a governor. Even while he told his principal that he'd cleaned it all up. We are being told that O'Byrne is necessary because he understands Paterson's "rhythms," which may be the worst put-down of the governor, even if it is offered by his friends and allies.

It's not like O'Byrne has some storied history of governmental experience. He was the assistant to the lieutenant governor, which only means that he got to know the elevator operator in the Capitol fairly well before Eliot Spitzer fell down the shaft. He is hardly the indispensable man.

My understanding is that Howard Rubenstein, the uber-public relations czar of New York and a dear friend of David Paterson's, put the editorial recruiting O'Byrne in the Post, which is one of Rubenstein's prime clients. Rubenstein did it to help Paterson. He did it to help a state that is in deeper crisis than at any time in modern history. It is a measure of everyone's desperation.

Insiders believe that Paterson is so wounded, quality people will not join his government at the highest levels. But in fact, the governor himself is not asking people to come in and help him. He is paralyzed with uncertainty and insecurity. His father Basil reaches out more often than he does. The governor issued a statement today saying he hadn't even talked to O'Byrne before he began freely speculating in press interviews that he might bring him back, highlighting the need for his own "dedicated switchboard" and for someone to help him with soundbites. Parachuting in a tax cheat on the rebound from an undisclosed location won't solve that.    

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