Rumors or not, David Paterson is in trouble

Gossip is swirling about a new scandal for the New York governor. But his political future is already cloudy

Published February 9, 2010 12:22AM (EST)

The talk in New York political circles -- and, increasingly, in Washington -- is that there's some major New York Times story in the works about Gov. David Paterson. Just before the Super Bowl started Sunday, in fact, Twitter lit up with speculation that the story would appear in Monday's paper, and that Paterson would resign once it ran.

By the time you're reading this, of course, it's clear that didn't happen. Paterson's office has denied any plans to resign, and it's still not even clear what the story -- if it ever appears -- is about.

The thing is, though, that might not matter. Even if the Times never prints another word about Paterson, it's hard to see how he'll win another term. "We still have more voters who have an unfavorable view of David Paterson than have a favorable view -- and that's the good news for the governor" in recent polls, says Steven Greenberg, a pollster at Siena College. "Either there's something there [in a Times story], or there's not. The best news for the governor is if there's not -- and that just leaves the status quo."

Two out of three New York voters say they disapprove of Paterson's job performance. He trails his likely primary challenger, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, by about the same ratio, and is only running about even with the likely Republican nominee, former Rep. Rick Lazio, in a general election matchup. Digging out of that hole is going to be difficult; Paterson has about $620,000 in the bank, while Cuomo -- who hasn't even officially entered the primary campaign yet -- has got the job in the first place). Gossip, of course, has inflated the story well past anything the Times is likely to print; for that matter, some of the craziest rumors I heard from sources about what the story might cover went past anything Salon could print without any proof. In Albany, actually, people have been talking about some forthcoming Times story for so long that the speculation may even be starting to die down. Lazio, for his part, managed to insert himself into the mix Monday by cheekily sticking up for Paterson, calling for an end to what he described as "psychological warfare" over the apocryphal story. Some New York political operatives think the gossip is coming from Washington, in an attempt to get Paterson out of the race altogether.

But what's even less clear than what the Times is working on is whether any kind of bad press could actually force Paterson to step aside. The White House tried, rather publicly, to push him out last fall, and Paterson didn't go anywhere. The bad polls have been dragging on for months, and Paterson still hasn't gone anywhere. The guy already admitted -- on his first day on the job -- that he and his wife had both had affairs earlier. Once you've been through all that, why quit? "The White House said, 'Fuck off,' and he just dug in his heels," says one person familiar with Paterson's strategy. "The whole world is now about to say, 'Fuck off!' and he'll just dig in his heels again." (Of course, if he does resign, Lieutenant Gov. Richard Ravitch would take over -- at 76 years old.)

Paterson will, apparently, sit down with the Times on Tuesday to discuss whatever story the paper is working on. Which means you can probably stay tuned for more strange developments. After all, if there's one thing New York state politics have taught us, it's that life can always get weirder.

By Mike Madden

Mike Madden is Salon's Washington correspondent. A complete listing of his articles is here. Follow him on Twitter here.

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