The audacity of hopelessness: thoughts on regime change in Albany

In Sunday’s paper, Grant Reeher has an op-ed wondering if New Yorkers could have ever possibly chosen David Paterson as governor of their own free will. In Reeher’s opinion, Paterson’s temperament may be much better suited to the current political climate in Albany in a way that Spitzer’s never was. At this point I agree – although I think there are deeper reasons why Spitzer was elected by such a landslide that went beyond hype and money. There’s no indication that New Yorkers didn’t want a standard-bearer of reform, or at least of change in business as usual. But the expectations for such a standard-bearer were very high and strict — expectations that Spitzer’s candidacy rested wholly upon. When he could not live up to those strict expectations, he was rejected not only by Albany’s power structure and the by the media, but by the voters, who according to one poll felt he should immediately resign, in almost the same number that he was elected by (about 70%).

Although the media establishment has been interested in Paterson’s failings, the New York Times did stay on the Spitzer story and published a few very eye-opening, and saddening, stories. From a March 23 article:

    The e-mail message was time-stamped Dec. 18, 2007. It was sent at 5 a.m. It did not mince words. “I’ve been up all night, I haven’t been able to sleep thinking how we’ve gotten to this position,” it began, according to one recipient’s recollection… The author of the e-mail message was Eliot Spitzer, the 54th governor of New York. His administration was just days from the end of its first year, and his poll numbers were abysmal. And now the morning newspapers had another report of another set of subpoenas issued as part of an investigation into the administration’s effort to tarnish a Republican rival… Mr. Spitzer ordered a 7:30 a.m. conference call. He canceled plans to attend a forum in the Bronx on predatory lending in poor neighborhoods, suggesting it was a waste of time when “everything was falling apart.”

The story goes on with several examples of the same anger and confusion from earlier in Spitzer’s first and only year in office, with the anecdotes seeming to end in dispiritedness, a sense of What’s the use? There had been a feeling, only privately expressed and never in the papers, coming from people close to Spitzer that they felt he might not run for a second term, if only because he appeared to dislike the job. All this at a time when most New Yorkers saw fireworks coming from Albany, but still felt mostly confident that Spitzer could get things on track, and little suspecting that he felt otherwise. Spitzer didn’t really admit it to himself either. He had said, “we will not waste this crisis,” and yet he found no use for his own hopelessness.

What we got with Paterson’s ascension was precisely one day of celebratory hope (his inaugural) that felt like a spring breeze, followed by more scandal — and the distinct sense that, even if he didn’t seem to be in immediate danger, that our new governor would be publicly scrambling for his political life from his own Day One. Perhaps Paterson’s honeymoon was perfect in being so brief. After a dozen years of a blandly magisterial Pataki administration, and one year of a governor who had only a veneer of control, a lot of people in this state have felt as if they have been scrambling for their own lives for a long time. It almost feels a perverse relief to have a governor who is obviously doing the same.

Or, as Emily Dickinson said, “I like a look of agony, because I know it’s true.” Continue reading “The audacity of hopelessness: thoughts on regime change in Albany”