I keep noticing that the media delights in labeling David Paterson as “affable.” I think that’s going to be his official nickname; I say, good, if it keeps them from noticing that he’s never been known to be all that passive. (BTW, his full press conference today is here.)
Channel 9’s reports from Albany on Wednesday were a hoot especially when they kept referring to Joe Bruno as “now the lieutenant governor.” I can already tell that this is going to be a hair-tearing exercise to inform the clueless media that he is the Senate Majority Leader and only performs the duties of lieutenant governor. He is not the Lieutenant Governor. Okay?
Then I sat and watched John DeFrancisco refer to Paterson as “the acting governor.” He was referring to Paterson in the future tense, looking forward to the next three years, so I hope it was just a slip of the tongue and not some weird twisty GOPspeak of the sort that I thought DeFrancisco was well above.
This evening, I watched all Onondaga County legislators (except Barclay) lined up on a panel on Channel 9 to be interviewed about their views on Paterson. All of them were enthusiastic, as you might expect, that one of their own was coming in. (And I’ll bet Valesky is glad that nobody insisted on a lengthy statement on Spitzer the last couple days… he was probably hiding under his bed!) Al Stirpe, however, made a truly clueless statement when he said (not an exact quote) that Eliot Spitzer was “created” by the people of New York as a response to some sort of imaginary impression that Albany was “bad.” (You know, when after all Albany really is good and pure). Make no mistake, there’s still a wall of denial and disdain for public opinion lurking in the Capitol.
However (in a spirit of conciliation) I’ll say that this past week brought home that I’ve learned a lot about Albany and politics in general since starting this blog project several years ago. I won’t back down from the contention that legislative reform is critically necessary for the state’s future — and Paterson, I believe, really knows that — and I still have a copy of the Brennan Center Report on my hard drive. But it’s also true that the rawly political, unofficial power structures that exist in Albany sometimes do work in a positive way that protects what needs to be protected. Those structures are based on relationships that we as outsiders sometimes have trouble trusting (and sometimes, very rightly so). We saw the political law of the jungle in action this week… and I don’t think it was necessarily a foregone conclusion that Spitzer would go at the appropriate time. But many different political institutions and players instinctively reacted to a shock in a visceral way that I think ultimately defended, like white blood cells, the business of the state – the business we sent these people there to do. The high stakes were understood by all. The people of New York also participated in this short but painful process.
I have read comments from those outside our state who wonder at how New York managed to get through this crisis in such short order, when the rest of America is struggling with a great deal of corruption at the very top and nobody can do anything to get it away from partisanship and resolve it. Simply put it’s because New Yorkers knew precisely why they elected Spitzer and why they no longer wanted him. And the structures of the government here may be badly off-kilter and in need of reform, but maybe they are not crumbling structures and are worth saving.
Why we had an Eliot Spitzer for Governor is a good question to explore, but I most emphatically do not agree with Al Stirpe’s thoughtless and cynical dismissal of what ordinary New Yorkers feel and know. Eliot Spitzer is gone. His mandate goes on. We elected Spitzer because we do have the highest aspirations here in New York. For real. That’s who we are in the Empire State, and Assemblyman Stirpe had better never forget it. Then again, he’s a near-freshman and has a lot to learn, too. Maybe he should start by studying our state motto – which has rarely been more relevant than it was this week.