David Paterson got some tough questions Tuesday morning at a Crain’s Business Breakfast Forum, and gave some interesting answers: Comparing his rental situation in Albany to that of a soldier stationed in Iraq, for example, and suggesting term limits be lifted because eight years is not enough time for legislators to learn their jobs. Not to mention a crack at Republican “racial coding.”
In Q&As following Paterson’s remarks on the State economy at the Hilton in Midtown, inquiring minds Greg David, editor of Crain’s New York Business, and Jay DeDapper of WNBC-TV peppered the accidental executive with queries about his own rent-regulated apartment, term limits, and his assertion yesterday that some state legislators were “bloodsuckers.”
Regarding the fang-tastic controversy, DeDapper asked the governor whether the “bloodsuckers” statement signaled a turn in his spirit of cooperation with the legislature. Paterson repeated his explanation that the comment, made during a speech in Albany to the New York Association on Independent Living, stemmed from his own frustration with the way advocates for the disabled are treated in the state capitol.
Paterson, who is legally blind, said that as a legislator for more than 20 years before he unexpectedly became governor in March, he sometimes sensed colleagues being courteous to visiting advocates in the daytime, only to ignore their requests by nightfall — sort of a Count Dracula transformation.
“I don’t think my colleagues are bloodsuckers,” Paterson said. “What I do think is that, unfortunately, if we adopted the right kind of campaign finance, and if we started to take a look at the amount of spending as it impacts on the operation of government, that legislators would be empowered to see groups on the content of their information and not the resources that they’re spending in Albany.”
Asked whether he thought racism would impact Obama’s chances of becoming President, Paterson first replied that Obama could draw enough voters based on issues alone to win.
Then, without prompting, he added, “I think that there are overtones of potential racial coding in the campaign. I think the Republican party is too smart to call Barack Obama ‘black’ in the sense that it would be a negative, but you can take something about his life, which I noticed they did at the Republican convention: a ‘community organizer.’ They kept saying it. They kept laughing, like, what does this mean?”
David rankled Paterson with a question about Senate Minority Leader Malcolm Smith. Referring to rumors among insiders that Paterson is not fully committed to Smith, David asked, “Is he your guy, and if the Democrats win control of the State Senate, will you ensure that he will be the majority leader?”
Some auditors were so discomfited by David’s question that they hissed him — maybe because Malcolm Smith just happened to be sitting in the room.
“That would have been a good question to ask me if we were in Bosnia,” replied Paterson. “This is the United States of America. When the Democrats take control of the senate, if they do, they will vote for who they want to be the majority leader. I would assume that it would be the person who led them to the majority — and that would be Senator Malcolm Smith.”
Later, Paterson responded in the affirmative to a question from DeDapper about whether, as a citizen of New York City, he favored extending term limits for local elected officials.
“I think that, just from my own service, I don’t know that eight years give a legislator on any level a real opportunity to serve their community,” he said. “It takes a little while to learn the operations of government. There are campaigns that interfere during that particular time. I would not mind seeing term limits extended.”
The tensest exchange, though, seemed to occur near the end of questioning when David got personal and asked Paterson, who with his wife Michelle makes more than $200,000 and lives in a rent-regulated apartment in central Harlem, “Why is it fair?”
Paterson appealed to rent stabilization laws and the goal of keeping units affordable for future tenants.
“Let’s say I went down to the office and I said, ‘I want a different arrangement. I want to pay the market rate to you for this property.’ What would the landlord and I be doing? We’d be breaking the law,” he said.
Further, citing a special annoyance with anyone who would monitor whether his service in Albany prevents him from spending the required 180 days per year in his Harlem residence, Paterson compared his split-time situation to someone who vacates a rent-stabilized apartment temporarily to serve in Iraq.
Paterson got much gentler treatment from the strongly pro-business audience during his speech. He received a standing ovation after his introduction by Partnership for New York City CEO Kathryn Wylde, who lauded him for his skill of listening to the business community. “I really like being described as someone who listens,” responded Paterson. “It’s preferable to being described as a visionary.”
The crowd was especially enthusiastic about his overriding message that tax increases should not be the primary fix for state budget deficits estimated to reach $26.2 billion for the next three years.
“Our spending numbers are so out of whack,” he said, “that even with a tax increase, as soon as the tax increase sunsets, our spending would again amplify the budget deficit.” He offered the example of 2003, when tax increases were applied to new programs instead of to the deficit.
In a telling slip (whether Freudian or sarcastic), Paterson referred to the occupant of the executive chamber during that time as “Governor Pataxi.”