David Alexander Paterson (born May 20, 1954) is an American politician and member of the Democratic Party who served as the 55th Governor of New York, succeeding Eliot Spitzer and serving out nearly three years of Spitzer's term from March 2008 to the end of 2010. He is the first African American to serve as Governor of New York and the second legally blind governor of a U.S. state.
Following his graduation from Hofstra Law School, Paterson worked in the District Attorney's office of Queens County, New York and on the staff of Manhattan Borough President David Dinkins. In 1985, he was elected to the New York State Senate to a seat once held by his father, former New York Secretary of State Basil Paterson. In 2003, he rose to the position of Senate minority leader. Paterson was selected to be the running mate of Democratic gubernatorial nominee Eliot Spitzer in the 2006 New York gubernatorial election. Spitzer and Paterson were elected in November 2006 with 69 percent of the vote, and Paterson took office as lieutenant governor on January 1, 2007.
After Spitzer resigned in the wake of a prostitution scandal, Paterson was sworn in as governor of New York on March 17, 2008. Paterson held the office of governor during the Great Recession, and he implemented state budget cuts. Paterson also made two significant appointments: In January 2009, he appointed then-U.S. Representative Kirsten Gillibrand to a vacant U.S. Senate seat, and in July 2009, he appointed Richard Ravitch as lieutenant governor. Paterson launched a campaign for a full term as governor in the 2010 gubernatorial election, but announced on February 26, 2010 that he would bow out of the race. During the final year of his administration, Paterson faced allegations of witness tampering, soliciting improper gifts, and making false statements; he was eventually fined for having lied under oath. Since leaving office, Paterson has been a radio talk show host and served as chairman of the New York Democratic Party from May 2014 to November 2015.
Early life and background
Paterson was born in Brooklyn to Portia Paterson, a homemaker, and Basil Paterson, a labor law attorney. Basil Paterson was later a New York state senator and secretary of state, and served as deputy mayor of New York City. According to a New York Now interview, Paterson traces his roots on his mother's side of the family to pre-Civil War African American slaves in the states of North Carolina and South Carolina. His father is half Afro-Jamaican. His paternal grandmother, a Jamaican, Evangeline Rondon Paterson was secretary to Black Nationalist leader Marcus Garvey. His paternal grandfather was Leonard James Paterson, a native of Carriacou who arrived in the United States aboard the S.S. Vestris on May 16, 1917. It was reported by The Genetic Genealogist in March 2008 that Paterson had recently undergone genetic genealogy testing. Part of his father's ancestry consists of immigrants from England, Ireland, and Scotland, while his mother's side includes Eastern European Jewish ancestry, as well as ancestors from the Guinea-Bissau region of West Africa.
At the age of three months, Paterson contracted an ear infection that spread to his optic nerve, leaving him sightless in his left eye and with severely limited vision in his right. Since New York City public schools would not guarantee him an education without placing him in special education classes, his family bought a home in the Long Island suburb of South Hempstead so that he could attend mainstream classes there. Paterson was the first student with a disability in the Hempstead public schools, graduating from Hempstead High School in 1971.
Paterson received a B.A. degree in history from Columbia College of Columbia University in 1977 and a J.D. degree from Hofstra Law School in 1983. After law school, he went to work for the Queens District Attorney's Office, but did not pass the New York bar examination, which prevented him from becoming an attorney at law. He claimed that his failing the New York bar was partially the result of insufficient accommodation for his visual impairment, and has since advocated for changes in bar exam procedures.
New York State Senate (1985–2006)
On August 6, 1985, state senator Leon Bogues died, and Paterson sought and obtained the Democratic party nomination for the seat. In mid-September, a meeting of 648 Democratic committee members on the first ballot gave Paterson 58% of the vote, giving him the party nomination. That October, Paterson won the virtually uncontested special State Senate election. At the time, the 29th Senate district covered the Manhattan neighborhoods of Harlem, Manhattan Valley and the Upper West Side, the same district that Paterson's father had represented. He was re-elected ten times, and remained in the state senate until 2006, sitting in the 186th, 187th, 188th, 189th, 190th, 191st, 192nd, 193rd, 194th, 195th and 196th New York State Legislatures.
Paterson briefly ran in the Democratic primary for the office of New York City Public Advocate in 1993, but was defeated by Mark J. Green.
Senate Minority Leader (2003–2006)
Paterson was elected Minority Leader by the Senate Democratic Conference on November 20, 2002, becoming both the first non-white state legislative leader and the highest-ranking black elected official in the history of New York. Paterson unseated the incumbent Minority Leader, Martin Connor. Paterson became known for his consensus-building style and sharp political skills.
In 2006, Paterson sponsored a controversial bill to limit the use of deadly force by the police. He later changed that position. He also supported non-citizen voting in New York local elections. According to the New York Post, he "chalked up a heavily liberal record". Describing Paterson's tenure in the senate, The New York Times cited his "wit, flurries of reform proposals and unusual bursts of candor".
2006 gubernatorial election
In 2006, Paterson was selected by New York Attorney General and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Eliot Spitzer as his running mate. The news stunned the New York political world, as the Democratic minority was poised to possibly take over the state legislature. Paterson traded the possibility of becoming Senate Majority Leader for the opportunity to hold the largely ceremonial lieutenant governor post. During their 2006 campaign, Paterson resolved a dispute with Spitzer over turf wars between staff members. The Spitzer-Paterson ticket won a landslide victory in the election, with 69% of the vote. It was the largest margin of victory in a gubernatorial race in New York history, and the second-largest for any statewide race in New York history.
In late December 2006, shortly before being sworn in as lieutenant governor, Paterson said that if he ever succeeded Spitzer as governor, he and Nelson A. Rockefeller would have something besides the governorship in common: Great difficulty in reading. Rockefeller was dyslexic, and Paterson compared this to his own blindness.
Lieutenant Governor of New York (2007–2008)
Paterson took office as lieutenant governor on January 1, 2007.
Stem cell research
Paterson led Spitzer's successful 2007 legislative effort to approve a bond issue which will provide at least $1 billion toward stem cell research. Spitzer and Paterson touted the measure partly for its economic development benefits, following California's $3 billion effort, which in turn had been prompted by the U.S. federal government halting funding for such research.
In September 2007, Paterson weighed in on a proposal before the New York City Council to extend voting rights to noncitizens. He told a crowd gathered at the West Indian American Day Carnival Parade that he believed noncitizens should be granted voting rights. He stressed he was asking for a change in policy, rather than a new law, citing that although 22 states and territories between 1776 and 1920 allowed the practice, none do now. Spitzer issued a statement that he did not agree with Paterson's position, and claimed he was unaware Paterson would be speaking on the matter. Paterson had tried to introduce legislation granting voting rights to noncitizens as a State Senator fifteen years earlier.
Reverse discrimination lawsuit
In February 2008, a U.S. District Judge denied a motion to dismiss a racial discrimination lawsuit naming Paterson. A white male former staff photographer claimed that he was the victim of discrimination in 2005 when Paterson's office replaced him with a black photographer. According to the New York Post, Paterson's chief of staff "denied the claim... Paterson, in his deposition, countered that the decision... was simple politics – [the photographer] was a holdover from former Minority Leader Marty Connor, who was ousted by Paterson in 2003."
Governor of New York (2008–2010)
In the midst of a prostitution scandal, Governor Eliot Spitzer resigned his position effective March 17, 2008. Upon hearing that Spitzer intended to resign, Paterson called his then-wife Michelle and reportedly said, "I think I'll kill myself". Following Spitzer's resignation, Paterson was sworn in as the 55th governor of New York, at the New York State Capitol on March 17, 2008, by New York Chief Judge Judith Kaye.
Paterson is the first black governor in the history of the state of New York and the fourth black governor in the history of the United States (the first three being the Reconstruction-era P. B. S. Pinchback of Louisiana, Virginia's Douglas Wilder and Massachusetts's Deval Patrick). The lieutenant governor's office remained vacant until September 22, 2009, when the New York Court of Appeals ruled in a 4–3 decision that Paterson's appointment of Richard Ravitch was constitutional.
Paterson is the second legally blind governor of a U.S. state (the first was Bob C. Riley, who was Acting Governor of Arkansas for 11 days in January 1975). During his tenure, Paterson's staff read documents to him over voice mail.
On July 17, 2008, Paterson was the keynote speaker addressing the 99th annual convention of the NAACP in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Although Paterson is a lifelong Democrat who was considered a liberal in the state Senate, he earned praise from conservatives during his time as governor for making major spending cuts; for providing mandate relief; for enacting an inflation-indexed property tax cap and a school tax "circuit breaker"; and for his appointment of Blue Dog Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand to a vacant seat in the United States Senate.
First days as governor
Paterson ascended to the governor's office during the busiest legislative period of the year. The state is required by law to pass its budget prior to April 1. He had only two weeks to negotiate with lawmakers a proposal to close a $4.7 billion deficit and pass a $124 billion budget from the Spitzer administration. He stated in his inauguration speech that it would be his top priority.
Paterson also made reference in his speech to the economic woes being faced in the United States, calling them a "crisis", and promised to "adjust the budget accordingly". Since 1984, New York State has only passed a budget on time once, in 2005, leading Paterson to call for an "end to the dysfunction in Albany" in his speech, echoing a 56-page study from the nonpartisan New York University School of Law's Brennan Center for Justice, which referred to the legislature as "the least deliberative and most dysfunctional in the nation".
Paterson quickly signed five pieces of legislation on his first day in office: to add the New York State Department of Labor to the New York City Transit Track Safety Task Force; to eliminate a law that discouraged employers from holding blood drives; to change the way in which members are appointed to a state health and research board; to restore eligibility caps to certain senior employment programs; and to grant tax exemptions to several local development corporations in New York State.
One day after Paterson's inauguration as the governor of New York, both he and his wife acknowledged having had extramarital affairs, one with a state employee. Paterson's admissions went against the so-called "Bear Mountain Compact", a practice by lawmakers that their transgressions in the state capital would not be reported elsewhere.
In May 2008, Paterson informed New York State agencies that they were required to recognize same-sex marriage licenses from other jurisdictions for purposes of employee benefits. The governor's directive was purportedly based upon a decision from New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division's Fourth Department. The governor's directive did not receive widespread public attention until weeks after the directive was given. At that time, the governor's decision provoked public reaction on both sides of the issue. While Paterson's directive received widespread approval from same-sex marriage supporters, it was met with criticism from conservative legislators and from same-sex marriage opponents, one of whom referred to the directive as governor Paterson's "first major blunder". Then-Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno and others accused Paterson of having overstepped his bounds and usurped the authority of the legislature. Paterson reportedly described same-sex marriage as "beautiful," and contended that his decision was "the right thing to do"; the governor was enthusiastically cheered when he attended the 2008 gay pride parade in Manhattan.
On June 3, 2008, a lawsuit was filed by the Alliance Defense Fund challenging the governor's directive. On September 2, 2008, Justice Lucy A. Billings of the State Supreme Court in the Bronx issued a decision that Paterson acted within his powers when he required state agencies to recognize same-sex marriages from outside New York State. In her dismissal of the Alliance Defense Fund suit, Justice Billings found that the governor's order was consistent with state laws on the recognition of marriages from outside the state.
In April 2009, it was revealed that Paterson would propose legislation to legalize same-sex marriage in New York. Paterson later tapped former Senate Majority Leader and former political foe Joseph Bruno to support same-sex marriage in Albany. On December 2, 2009, same-sex marriage legislation was "overwhelmingly" defeated on the floor of the New York State Senate by a vote of 24 to 38; no Republican voted yes, eight Democrats voted no. The Daily News described the defeat as a "major blow", while The New York Times stated that the defeat "all but ensures that the issue is dead in New York until at least 2011, when a new Legislature will be installed."
In late 2010, before the January 2011 expiration of his term as governor, Paterson reached out to members of the New York State Senate in an attempt to gauge support for the passage of same-sex marriage legislation during a lame-duck session of the Legislature; however, the governor came to the conclusion that passage of the bill during the lame-duck session was not feasible. When asked what would have to occur in order for same-sex marriage to be legalized in New York, Paterson responded, "Get rid of the lobbyists," and added that same-sex marriage advocates had "forced" a Senate floor vote prematurely in December 2009.
New York fiscal crisis
In July 2008, Paterson warned state lawmakers and citizens of New York that the state faced its worst fiscal crisis since the 1970s. On Tuesday, July 29, Paterson gave a rare televised address that was broadcast on all of New York's major news networks, stating that the state budget deficit had gone up $1.4 billion over the 90 days since his original budget submission, citing rising costs due to the poor economy and a struggling Wall Street, and calling the state legislature back to Albany for an emergency session starting on August 19, 2008. He also warned that the budget deficit was estimated to grow 22 percent by 2011. With AIG on the verge of collapse on September 16, 2008, and in the aftermath of Lehman Brothers filing for bankruptcy, Paterson publicly lobbied for a government bailout of the insurance giant. He hit the cable networks early and was quoted by media around the world. The previous day, Paterson had loosened regulations to allow AIG to draw reserves from its subsidiaries.
Paterson revised Spitzer's record-size executive budget proposal to cut spending. Budget negotiations carried over past the deadline, causing the new governor to lament that too many lawmakers were "unwilling to make serious cuts to our budget". On April 10, 2018, a $121.7 billion budget package was passed by both houses of the state legislature. The budget closed a projected $4.6 billion deficit with $1.8 billion of spending cuts, $1.5 billion in additional revenue from increased taxes and fees and $1.3 billion of one time transfers, and did not tap into the state's $1.2 billion of reserves or increase the top income tax rate on those earning $1 million or more. Paterson's budget provided property tax relief, delivered aid to municipalities, and restored hundreds of millions in property tax rebates for middle-class homeowners and $1 billion for upstate economic development. The budget provided for a tuition remission program for military veterans, offering them free tuition at both SUNY and CUNY institutions. Even though the budget enacted was the first in a decade that included less spending than the proposal, Paterson promised to slash the following year's state budget by five to 10 percent, because the spending plan he inherited was "too big and too bloated".
In April 2008, Paterson asked the heads of all state agencies to cut their budgets by 3.35% and threatened a hiring freeze; the governor also asked legislative leaders to follow suit. In August 2008, he called a special emergency session of the legislature and enacted 6% across-the-board cuts in all state agencies. He called another special session in November 2008 to trim an additional 3%, but this effort did not meet with success.
At his first State of the State address in January 2009, Paterson said "My fellow New Yorkers: let me come straight to the point—the state of our state is perilous. New York faces an historic economic challenge, the gravest in nearly a century. ... The pillars of Wall Street have crumbled. The global economy is reeling. Trillions of dollars of wealth have vanished." New York faced a budget deficit of $15 billion, and state debt approached $55 billion. Paterson's budget proposal called for dramatic across-the-board cuts to various state agencies; he described those cuts as "deep and painful". Paterson also proposed to close the 81-year-old Reynolds Game Farm, in Tompkins county, the state's only remaining pheasant facility, but changed course following criticism from sportsmen's groups.
In March 2009, Paterson announced at a town hall meeting in Niagara Falls that in light of the fiscal crisis, he would take a 10% pay cut.
Appointment of U.S. senator
After being nominated for the position on December 1, 2008, Senator Hillary Clinton was confirmed as United States Secretary of State by the United States Senate. Clinton resigned her Senate seat on January 21, 2009, in order to assume the Cabinet post. By mandate of the New York Constitution, Paterson was tasked with appointing a temporary replacement until a special election in 2010 for the conclusion of the term of her Class 1 seat.
Persons mentioned in the media as potential appointees included U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks, former State Comptroller H. Carl McCall, William C. Thompson, Jr., Byron Brown, Rep. José E. Serrano, Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez, U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey, U.S. Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, former Hillary Clinton aide Leecia Eve, United Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten, Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand, and political heiress Caroline Kennedy. While New York Attorney General and former United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Andrew Cuomo refused to publicly declare his interest in the seat, he attracted a plurality of support from polled New Yorkers to take the seat. Cuomo was cited by some analysts as a savvy Senate appointee because his appointment might dissuade him from mounting a primary challenge against Paterson in the 2010 gubernatorial election. Paterson acknowledged on January 20, 2009, that Cuomo was indeed under consideration for the appointment.
It was reported on December 5, 2008 that Paterson had spoken with Kennedy regarding her interest in the Senate seat. However, Kennedy abruptly withdrew her name from consideration on January 21, 2009. Up until her withdrawal, for which no official explanation was given, the high-profile, well-connected daughter of former President John F. Kennedy was widely considered the front-runner for the nomination. After Kennedy removed herself from consideration, some reports indicated that Paterson "never intended" to pick Kennedy, having come to consider her "unready" for the seat after a series of media misfires. Some sources and analysts doubted the reports' veracity, calling the Paterson camp's denials of any interest in appointing Kennedy "misdirection". Joseph Mercurio remarked that Paterson's caginess had backfired, noting, "Now no matter who he picks, it's always going to be the choice after what happened to Kennedy."
On January 23, 2009, Paterson chose Gillibrand—a moderate upstate congresswoman from then-largely conservative district—to fill Clinton's vacated seat. The reaction from the Kennedy family was reportedly "furious", according to The New York Post and the Daily News. Although Gillibrand's appointment was praised by some (including Schumer, New York's senior senator; President Obama; and Clinton herself,) others criticized Paterson's choice, calling Gillibrand "inexperienced", "sharp-elbowed", "too conservative", and "unliked". Others, including liberal The New York Times editorialist Maureen Dowd and New York Magazine writer Chris Smith, criticized Paterson's "peculiar" and "dithering" handling of the Senate appointment and suggested it was a cynical way of rallying upstate support for re-election. Paterson later admitted that he personally ordered his staff to contest Caroline Kennedy's version of events in the hours after she withdrew from consideration to be United States senator.
Appointment of new lieutenant governor
Due to the ongoing leadership crisis in the New York State Senate, in which the Senate tied with 31 Democratic votes and 31 Republican votes, with no presiding officer to break the tie, Paterson announced on July 8, 2009 that he would appoint Richard Ravitch, a former chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, to be lieutenant governor. On August 20, 2009, however, a four-judge panel of the New York State Appellate Division, Second Judicial Department ruled that Paterson had no legal authority to name a lieutenant governor, and that the lieutenant governor position could not be filled in any way other than via an election. On September 23, 2009, the New York Court of Appeals reversed the Appellate Division's decision, holding Paterson's appointment of Ravitch to be constitutional.
Aqueduct Race Track
In January 2010, Paterson awarded a contract to operate a 4,500 slot machine racino at the Aqueduct Race Track to Aqueduct Race Track Entertainment Group (AEG) in Queens, New York. The appointment generated controversy because of charges that AEG, which had the worst bid of those bidding, was allowed to change its bid so that it had the best. Paterson is reported to have demanded that the ownership have an affirmative action component. During this time, rapper Jay-Z, through his company Gain Global Investments Network, LLC, then got a 7 percent ownership stake in AEG; charges were made that Jay-Z and Paterson had a personal relationship. U.S. prosecutors were reported to be investigating the bidding process, particularly AEG winning the bid two days after Queens megachurch pastor Floyd Flake (also an AEG investor) threatened to switch his support in the 2010 governor race from Paterson to Andrew Cuomo. New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver threatened not to sign off on the deal. Paterson maintained there was no quid pro quo.
On March 9, 2010, Paterson recused himself from the case, saying he was doing so on the advice of his lawyers. On the same day Flake and Jay-Z withdrew from AEG. Flake had a 0.6% share.
Allegations of wrongdoing
In February 2010, The New York Times reported that Paterson may have been involved in witness tampering in a domestic abuse case involving staffer David W. Johnson after New York State Police and Paterson allegedly talked to the complainant in an attempt to persuade her to drop the case. Paterson was said to have asked the woman if she needed any help a day before the case was dropped. On February 26, 2010, Paterson withdrew his bid for a full term as governor of New York.
In March 2010, the New York State Commission on Public Integrity asked Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to investigate allegations that Paterson had solicited an unlawful gift of free New York Yankees tickets. He also faced allegations that he had lied under oath to the Commission on Public Integrity in 2010 during an investigation about the Yankees tickets.
Following the "twin scandals", a poll showed that fewer than half of New Yorkers believed Paterson should remain in office. Despite this, Paterson announced on March 5, 2010 that he intended to continue to remain in his post until his term in office concluded at the end of the year.
Paterson was not criminally charged in connection with his witness interaction in the Johnson domestic abuse matter. On December 20, 2010, the Commission on Public Integrity found that Paterson had lied about accepting five free World Series tickets and fined him $62,125.
Saturday Night Live
After the Weekend Update sketch featuring David Paterson aired in 2009 on the NBC show Saturday Night Live, Paterson was upset by the way the sketch portrayed him, stating that it was an offensive stereotype to those who were visually impaired. On the 36th-season premiere of Saturday Night Live (aired September 25, 2010), Paterson appeared in the Weekend Update sketch alongside Fred Armisen, who was comedically portraying Paterson.
2010 gubernatorial election
In October 2008, Paterson launched a campaign website and announced his intention to run for a full term as governor. Paterson's prime Republican opponent was expected to be former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani. By February 2009, after the prolonged Senate appointment process, a Siena College poll indicated that Paterson was losing popularity among New Yorkers and showed Giuliani with a fifteen-point lead in a hypothetical contest. In April 2009, a Quinnipiac poll found that 60% of voters disapproved of Paterson's performance (the worst-ever rating for a New York governor); 53% believed that Paterson should withdraw his candidacy for the gubernatorial election. In an August 21, 2009 radio interview, Paterson suggested that his low popularity was caused by racism and added that Gov. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts had received a similar reception. Paterson added that President Barack Obama would be the next African-American elected official to suffer from poor approval due to his skin color. The White House asked Paterson to tone down his comments on race, but less than 24 hours later, Paterson said: "[One] very successful minority is permissible; but when you see too many success stories, then some people get nervous."
On September 18, 2009, advisors to President Barack Obama informed Paterson that the President believed Paterson should withdraw his 2010 gubernatorial candidacy and clear a path for "popular Attorney General Andrew Cuomo" to run. According to The New York Times, Obama was worried that Paterson's continued unpopularity could hinder the campaigns of New York's Democratic congressmembers and could also topple Democratic control of the state legislature. The Times cited a potential gubernatorial run by Giuliani as another reason for the Obama administration's request. On September 19, 2009, Paterson insisted he was still running. He reiterated his position on February 9, 2010, saying, "[The] only way I'm not going to be governor next year is at the ballot box and the only way I'll be leaving office before is in a box". On February 26, 2010, however, Paterson withdrew his bid for a full term as governor of New York "amid crumbling support from his party and an uproar over his administration’s intervention in a domestic violence case involving a close aide". Later in 2010, Cuomo became the Democratic candidate for governor of New York and won the election in a landslide.
After leaving office at the end of 2010, Paterson appeared on New York radio station WOR on a number of occasions as a substitute talk show host, filling in for morning host John Gambling. On September 1, 2011, the station announced that Paterson would become the regular weekday afternoon drive-time host beginning on September 6. He replaced Steve Malzberg. In December 2012, Paterson was let go from his radio show at WOR after the station was purchased by Clear Channel.
Paterson was appointed in 2013 to be a distinguished professor of health care and public policy, at Touro College, in Harlem, and to advise the Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine on public policy issues. Paterson was a director for investments with Stifel, Nicolaus & Company, a financial services holding company.
In May 2014, Andrew Cuomo appointed Paterson chairman of the New York Democratic Party. On October 7, 2015, Paterson announced that he would leave his position as chairman following the November elections.
Paterson dated Michelle Paige in college. After he broke up with her, she went on to marry someone else, have a daughter, and get divorced. In 1992, Paterson married Michelle. Two years later, they had a son named Alex. Paterson and Michelle had an up-and-down marriage, which included affairs to which they later admitted. The couple separated in 2012 and divorced in July 2014.
Paterson reportedly dated a member of his staff, Pamela Bane, from 2012 to 2014. Paterson then began to date Mary Galda, former wife of Curtis Sliwa. Sliwa tweeted out his "approval" of the relationship in 2015. Paterson got engaged to Galda in 2019, and married on August 10, 2019 at the Water Club on the East River. The ceremony was officiated by former New York City mayor David Dinkins.