One governor who doesn't suck

New York Gov. David Paterson says the news in Illinois makes him even more resolved to pick Hillary Clinton's replacement on merit.

By Alex Koppelman
December 11, 2008 1:20AM (UTC)
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It's no secret that I have a serious soft spot for New York Gov. David Paterson, solely for his sense of humor, which makes him sound like he trained in the Borscht Belt.

So it certainly didn't surprise me that the governor absolutely killed during his recent speech at the annual Gridiron Dinner. (Audio below, via Politico.) The comment that has gotten the most attention was his suggestion that he wants to follow in Barack Obama's footsteps as president, which he thinks he can do because, "Once you go black, you don't go back." But that only scratches the surface of Paterson's speech, some of which -- fittingly enough, given what happened on Tuesday -- was about the process of choosing a replacement for Hillary Clinton in the Senate.


Paterson also took time to make fun of himself and his former post as lieutenant governor. He observed that most people -- including those who hold the job -- don't actually know what lieutenant governors actually do. But in New York, he said, "we have it in statute... What you do is you wake up in the morning at 6:30 and call the governor's mansion. If he answers, you can go back to sleep." And he told the (presumably fictional) story of a meeting of a national organization of lieutenant governors, which he described as "people who sit around imagining plane crashes."

"Our first session," Paterson said, "was on how to leak brake fluid from a car. And then we broke out into committees. In my committee, we practiced on each other the fake Heimlich maneuver."

Speaking of Paterson's time as lieutenant governor, he managed to get in a joke or two at the expense of his predecessor, Eliot Spitzer. But not too many; as Paterson explained, "I feel really guilty -- after all, I was the lookout." (He's legally blind.)


As for the question of Clinton's Senate seat, Paterson offered up a few messages from his voicemail. Clinton left one in which she said she was conveying a suggestion from her colleague Chuck Schumer: "He figures, why bother? Why does New York need two Senators, anyhow? I know it’s a stretch, but I promised him I’d ask you." And Paterson left himself one:

Hello, Governor. It’s David Paterson here. I'm calling to remind you that things would be a lot easier if you appointed yourself to the Senate seat. It'd be a lot better than dealing with that budget mess in Albany, which you could leave for some other sucker. I mean, what could be a cushier job? ... I can’t believe you’re not thinking about this... I know I am.”

He closed the speech by asking attendees to turn their dinner plates over. "There may be a gold seal at the bottom," Paterson said. "If you have that plate, you are the next United States Senator from the state of New York."

Seriously, though.


In an interview he gave to the New York Observer Tuesday night, after Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's arrest had dominated the headlines, Paterson said, "I'm not going to comment on anything that happened in any other state, but what I would say is that just hearing the news makes me more resolved to the fact that this has to be a merit process. The only thing I should be thinking about is the merits of the candidates. And the only thing the candidates should be thinking about is demonstrating that in lieu of an election that they would serve the state the best."

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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