Governor Paterson hosted a town hall meeting today in Brooklyn Borough Hall, supposedly to talk about the state’s looming nine billion dollar deficit. He was warmly received by the crowd of activists and local politicians who had submitted pre-approved questions to ask the governor. Everything was scripted to keep the focus on the budget.
Still, the governor was thrown for a loop at times during the sometimes wacky town hall.
The second question came from a woman who identified herself as “Queen Mother,” who changed the subject and started talking about this being International Women’s Day. When she brought up that women were debating important issues at the U.N. right now, the crowd was leaning forward to hear if she would bring up what was really on everyone’s mind. Instead, she used the occasion to lobby Paterson to select “Queen Mother Coffee,” her own brand, as the official government coffee for the state, which she said would help solve the budget deficit because it’s cheaper (and organic, too!)
She didn’t bring up violence against women, but Governor Paterson did in a round about way. He said he hoped the budgetary measures he wants to take will save New York from ending up like California, who he claims has had to close some domestic violence centers completely.
Paterson faced a barrage of questions from representatives of health care, education and social service agencies that wanted to make sure their programs are not axed. Most began with some kind of qualification that the questioner supported Paterson and wanted him to finish out his term, but that they wanted to make sure he wasn’t going to cut them along the way.
City Council member Charles Barron told Paterson he hoped he was the “one Governor with the guts” to “tax the rich” and consider a stock transfer tax. But Paterson declined to embrace the stock transfer tax, warning “If you want Wall Street to move to downtown Newark, Mayor Booker might like it.”
Councilwoman Letitia James — who also made clear her support for the Governor — urged Paterson to reconsider the soda tax, which she feared would be “regressive.” She asked him to fill the budget gap by closing prisons upstate, and by diverting public money from the Atlantic Yards project, which is in her district and which she considers “a waste of taxpayer dollars.”
Paterson defended the sugar tax, saying the state pays over 7 billion dollars a year in obesity related costs, nearly as much as it pays for smoking (8 billion). When a follow up questioner also asked him why he wasn’t fighting to keep the state from paying $2.9 billion towards the Atlantic Yards “boondoggle,” Paterson punted to the Court of Appeals, and tried to side-step the issue as something that was in place before he arrived and decided by the courts during his tenure beyond his control.
When an elderly person asked him if the budget was going to help seniors, he replied “Off the top of my head, I don’t think the proposed budget is going to help anything.”
It wasn’t until he faced the press, after the town hall, when Paterson answered questions about what people really want to know about. He revealed that he’d met with his lawyer on Saturday, and he wasn’t scheduled to meet further with the Attorney General at this point at time. He said his lawyer “has advised me not to discuss the facts of the case,” and defended himself for not telling New Yorkers his side of the story, so he can help guarantee an “investigation that is pure in its conduct.”
When asked about being an advocate of Special Prosecutors in his career in the Senate, he defended his decision to refer Aide-gate to Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. He also maintained that he was fine to negotiate the budget with the legislature despite his scandals, as “I’m no longer running for re-election, and so there is no politics at all.”