Monday, May 04, 2009

Boob vs. Lech
Amusing/sad poll finding of the day:

The latest Marist Poll is a mixed bag for Gov. David Paterson (D-NY). It's partly bad news -- and partly really bad news.

This number must really hurt: When New York's registered voters are asked whether they would rather have Eliot Spitzer or David Paterson as governor, it's Spitzer 51%, Paterson 38%.

Back to Spitzer in a bit, but let's briefly consider the desperate straits of the incumbent. Overall, Paterson's approval rating is at 19 percent, and almost every story involving the governor's popularity now includes the words "record low." He's evidently committed to running next year regardless, despite widespread speculation that Attorney General Andrew Cuomo will take the top spot on the Democratic ticket. (That Cuomo leads Paterson by about 50 points in polling certainly strengthens this theory.)

But Paterson's evident plan to revive political fortunes seems as confused and boneheaded as everything else in his accidental tenure--even if some aspects of it are surprisingly admirable. The obvious strategy for him would be to emphasize his African-American heritage, a gambit that makes particular sense against Cuomo; the current attorney general and son of the three-term governor saw his 2002 bid for the statehouse founder when he went up against state Comptroller Carl McCall, an African-American behind whom Democratic leaders had coalesced early in the campaign cycle. Cuomo ultimately withdrew from the race before the primary and has spent much of his time since trying to rebuild his bridges with black voters and party insiders.

Even if Paterson doesn't generally present himself as a "black politician"--to his credit, as far as I'm concerned--he does hail from the Harlem Democratic machine, and rallying the New York City establishment behind him probably would suffice to hold off Cuomo. His highest-profile campaign-like move to date, however, has been to come out in favor of same-sex marriage... a position supported by majorities of whites and Hispanics, but opposed by a plurality of African-Americans. Add in that Paterson's timing, if not his underlying position (he was a champion of same-sex unions in the state Senate for years before joining Spitzer's ticket as lieutenant governor in 2006), is pretty explicitly political, and it's not hard to see how the position could sap enthusiasm in the black community for his re-election, if not actual support.

(Of course, this is more than a little tricky for Cuomo as well. Our Democratic electorate is pretty liberal, after all, and if he tries to run to Paterson's right on marriage equality--by favoring civil unions, say--he'll risk turning contributors and volunteers back toward the governor. Personally, as an absolutist on marriage equality who's not fond of either Paterson or Cuomo, it could be a threshold issue for my primary vote... though the thought of voting for Paterson makes me almost physically ill. Considering both this issue and his past tangle with McCall, Cuomo is surely hoping that Paterson withdraws from the race before he has to jump in and take him on directly.)

Meanwhile, Paterson continues trying to govern while struggling with public contempt on a level far more intense than even George W. Bush saw. I think the guy's done a fairly awful job, failing to manage his legislative majorities and looking ever more ineffectual on the subject of the MTA bailout--something I keep meaning to write about here, but that makes me angry well beyond the point of coherence. Still... 19 percent? If I had to, I could make an argument for the guy: he finally got reform of the Rockefeller Drug Laws through, he passed a budget that has more spending than I or many New Yorkers would have preferred but managed not to gut education or social services, as right-wingers were calling, and recently he issued an executive order that will please many union members. (Another naked political gambit, but probably good policy nonetheless: there's no reason why public subsidies should support employers who bully and deprive their workers as a matter of course.) So the low rating likely has as much or more to do with a by now well established public perception of Paterson's ineptitude than a reasoned consideration of his actions in office--though, again, I think that perception is grounded in reality. (Conservatives can and have argued that Bush was the victim of a similar dynamic in his last two years, and to be fair, the bulk of his substantive disasters probably did come while he enjoyed far more public support than he did in 2007-2008.)

The evident public preference for Paterson's unfortunate predecessor also makes more sense than it might at first seem. In 2006, Spitzer won an overwhelming victory; the race was really more a coronation than a contest. By the time his sexcapades drove him from office, his ratings were way down from the early public adoration he'd enjoyed... but still around twice Paterson's current approval. Spitzer never seemed overwhelmed or unequal to the office; he just came across as a bullying asshole in a job where some diplomacy was called for. Ironically, that unpleasant type-A nature probably would be playing well today as "the sheriff of Wall Street" likely would be a media fixture in debates over post-crash regulation of financial markets. Sadly, the job I think Spitzer would be absolutely perfect for--leader of a new "Pecora Commission" to investigate the facts behind the pre-recession machinations and recommend corrective measures--is probably beyond his reach thanks to his legacy as Client Number Nine.


The Navigator said...

Can I request a synopsis of what Paterson's done so badly? As an outsider, I haven't been paying attention, so all I know so far is that the ledger looks like this:

pushing marriage equality;
reformed drug laws;
passed budget w/o gutting educ, services;
exec order against union busting

mismanaged MTA bailout;
Gillebrand appointment

That looks pretty good overall. What's missing from the anti- side?

the Navigator said...

And on Cuomo: I have a very distinct recollection of seeing stories in 2002 saying that Cuomo was really helping himself in the future by taking one for the team and clearing the way for McCall. Cuomo was understood to be piling up chits, particularly with the black community. Does that still apply? Did the chits have a four-year expiration period? I say this with no particular feeling for Cuomo one way or the other; I'm just curious about the political reality.

David said...

Cuomo did more harm by jumping into the race in the first place than stepping aside, particularly as it was clear by then that he was gonna get trounced.

To be fair, Pataki bought off the unions to an extent that it would have been tough for any Democrat to win that year, particularly considering the 9/11 halo effect. But he didn't come off well by any stretch.

As for Paterson, it's not so much the ledger of accomplishments and failures as that he just seems far, far, far out of his depth. The budget process was a mess, and in general he hasn't ridden herd on his former colleagues in the legislature. He comes across as the embodiment of the dysfunction in Albany, and probably looks worse by comparison to Spitzer who, for all his faults of temperament and judgment, at least seemed to grasp and share the view of most New Yorkers, upstate and downstate, that it's a profoundly fucked-up place.