News & Politics

David Paterson and Eliot Spitzer: New Book Reminds Us How We Got Here


The portraits of David Paterson and Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver that emerge in the new book by Eliot Spitzer’s onetime senior adviser Lloyd Constantine are strikingly relevant to the resignation debate raging again, almost precisely two years since Paterson replaced Spitzer.

Not only does Constantine — whose Journal of the Plague Year was written in 2009 — predict Paterson’s self destruction, he makes the case that within a day or so of the prostitution revelations about Spitzer, Silver threatened him with impeachment unless he quit.

Though Paterson now faces a referral for perjury by his own ethics commission in the Yankee ticket case, and refuses to answer the mounting evidence that he improperly intervened in a domestic abuse incident, Silver is saying “I do not feel he should resign.”

Some black elected officials defending Paterson have called him the victim of a double standard, even poking a finger at Silver. Constantine’s book, combined with other relevant cases involving white elected officials, suggests Paterson is in fact the beneficiary of a double standard, not the victim, of one.

Constantine, the high-powered managing partner in a law firm that included Spitzer before becoming the governor’s top aide in 2007, urged Spitzer in the 61 hours between the first revelations of the governor’s hooker high-life and his resignation to go into rehab for 30 days without stepping down.

That month would have given New Yorkers “a preview of Governor David Paterson, when he might well have done something incredibly jerky,” concluded Constantine. “However great Eliot’s handicaps, I viewed David’s as greater.”

This judgment comes from Spitzer’s closest friend who went out of his way to get to know Paterson, inviting him to several dinners in his honor at Constantine’s upstate mansion in Chatham. Spitzer and Constantine no longer speak.

The antidote to Constantine’s rehab-and-wait-it-out prescription was Silver, and when Spitzer pressed Constantine to estimate his plan’s probability of success, the best the lawyer could do was guess that Spitzer had a 25 percent chance of surviving. Spitzer said it was zero.

According to Constantine, “Eliot said that Silver could not control the Assembly, and therefore that body would speedily provide the vote margin for impeachment.” Constantine says that he did not doubt that Silver delivered that message to Spitzer, but Constantine did “strongly” doubt that Shelly “could not have bought Eliot and New York State a week or more for deliberation and contemplation of the dire consequences of Eliot’s resignation.”

Spitzer has told others that his March 2008 call to Silver was a prime factor in his decision to resign almost instantly. WABC-TV noted at the time that Silver told Spitzer that Democrats in the assembly “were lining up against him,” and the Daily News reported right after the resignation that “it became clear — after calls to Silver and other top Democrats — that nobody was coming to his rescue.”

In fact, Silver never discussed Spitzer’s problems in the meetings of the Democratic conference that week, telling the party’s assemblymembers in sessions that Monday and Tuesday to simply “stay tuned,” according to one member. “The governor will let me know what he is doing,” the member recalled Silver saying, “and then I’ll report to you.” If Silver was conveying the mood of assembly Democrats to Spitzer, he was doing it without ever so much as discussing it with the conference. Spitzer believes that Silver wanted Paterson to take over, partly due to Spitzer’s troubled relationship with the legislature and partly due to Paterson’s perceived malleability.

As quick on the trigger as Silver may have been with Spitzer, all he’s done is fire blanks at Paterson. When Silver indicated last week that Paterson put Lieutenant Governor Richard Ravitch in charge of budget negotiations, he got public pushback from State Senator Eric Adams, who said he found the idea “offensive.” To send a signal that the legislature is not willing to negotiate the budget with the sitting governor “has never been the position before,” said Adams, who also said he was “wondering” if it had something to do “with other than the governor’s ability to negotiate the budget.”

Apparently oblivious to the fact that every newspaper calling for Paterson’s resignation also called for Spitzer’s, or that leading Democrats like Silver played hardball with Spitzer and are waffling now, Adams suggested that Paterson was a victim of his race. “This is not the first time a governor has been under scrutiny,” Adams observed. “To prematurely call for him to have his powers circumvented or have him removed, I think is unfair.” After the Adams blast, Silver retreated, perhaps privately pushed by some of the blacks in his own assembly conference.

Recounting the recent list of governors who have resigned (not forgetting New Jersey’s McGreevey), Constantine wrote that New Yorkers got Paterson — “a nice and smart guy” — rather than “the man they had elected.” Constantine says he told Spitzer later that he was “the only person” in the state “who had no right to criticize David.

“Eliot had been the starting pitcher who left the bases loaded with an inept reliever coming in,” Constantine wrote. “Any runs scored were Eliot’s responsibility.”

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