3/13/08

Unions to gain power in N.Y. transition

As New York's de facto governor, David Paterson, readies himself to take the reins of a vast state government, he and his aides are scrambling to assemble a policy agenda out of the ruins of the Spitzer administration. Spitzer officials say the lieutenant governor shares many of the same positions advanced by Mr. Spitzer — they both support legalizing gay marriage and enacting an abortion rights bill that has infuriated the Catholic Church — but they caution that the overlap goes only so far.

"David will clearly put his own stamp on many policy initiatives," a Spitzer aide said.

Hours after Mr. Spitzer resigned in disgrace yesterday, Mr. Paterson's staff put together a small packet of policy memos and press releases that they said would illuminate his governing priorities.

The packet, obtained by The New York Sun, sketched Mr. Paterson's position on investing in clean energy — "the state must look to build and expand all aspects of clean energy infrastructure," it stated — expanding stem cell research, and reducing domestic violence.

Omitted were Mr. Paterson's stances on health care, education, taxes, and almost every other issue central to state government, a sign of how little impact he had on those areas while serving under Mr. Spitzer.

A spokesman for Mr. Paterson said the lieutenant governor would begin to fill in the gaps today when he holds his first press conference since Mr. Spitzer became embroiled in a sex scandal on Monday.

The most immediate expected change will be a shake-up of top-level executive chamber personnel.

Many of Mr. Spitzer's top aides are expected to follow Mr. Spitzer's exit. Among those said to be departing are the secretary to the governor, Richard Baum; the director of policy, Peter Pope, and the governor's counsel, David Nocenti. A senior adviser to Mr. Spitzer, Lloyd Constantine, has already submitted his resignation.

Mr. Paterson, 53, has asked Mr. Spitzer's director of operations, Paul Francis, to stay. Another top aide, Sean Patrick Maloney, will also remain in the executive chamber.

Mr. Paterson's second-in-command will be Charles O'Byrne, a former Jesuit priest and Columbia Law School graduate who officiated at the wedding and funeral of John F. Kennedy Jr. Mr. O'Byrne, who is gay, has written extensively on sex abuse scandals within the Catholic Church.

Mr. Paterson will assume the state's highest office without a campaign for the job and without winning a single vote cast for the office, giving him a greater flexibility in molding his policies than Mr. Spitzer had.

As a candidate, Mr. Spitzer pledged that he would not raise taxes. Administration officials say that Mr. Paterson, who advocated for a more progressive tax code as a state senator, has made no such pledge and say he's not beholden to Mr. Spitzer's policy.

Mr. Paterson will face his first test on the tax issue immediately after his swearing-in ceremony on Monday.

Assembly Democrats are aggressively pushing for a 12% personal income tax hike on millionaires to reduce the state's roughly $5 billion deficit. Republicans have rejected the idea — as well as the majority of fee increases and tax loophole closures proposed by Mr. Spitzer — and instead want to pass a constitutional amendment that would prevent annual spending increases of more than 4%.

Lawmakers say they have no idea whether Mr. Paterson will push to enact the governor's budget proposal or adopt one of the legislative alternatives.

Many of Mr. Spitzer's marquee initiatives may be left without a caretaker. Mr. Paterson in coming weeks will also have to decide whether to preserve Mr. Spitzer's plan to lease off the state lottery to create a $4 billion endowment for public higher education and Mr. Spitzer's effort to overhaul Medicaid by steering more money to outpatient and primary care and away from institutionalized care.

In a two-page resignation letter to Mr. Paterson, Mr. Constantine, who advised the governor on higher education policy, expressed a hope that the next governor would carry on the administration's work in that area. "I know you have worked towards the advancement of the Administration's higher education proposals and trust that you will continue to do so with all of the force of your intellect and high office," he wrote.

As a state senator of Harlem for 21 years and minority leader for four years, Mr. Paterson, who is African-American and legally blind, hewed to a largely liberal line, frequently championing legislation that sought to strengthen the rights of minorities and urban tenants.

He inveighed against the state's Rockefeller drug sentencing laws and commissioned a study to show that they unfairly targeted minorities. One ideological exception was his position on school choice. In the Senate Democratic conference, Mr. Paterson stood out for his forceful support for charter schools.

While New York's labor community clashed with Mr. Spitzer over his tax policy and health care funding, Mr. Paterson's history with labor unions has been free of conflict. In 2004, when Columbia graduate student teaching assistants went on strike, he tried to intervene on their behalf and urged President Lee Bollinger to recognize their union.

What the legislative record says about Mr. Paterson is an open question, however. When aides to Mr. Spitzer interviewed Mr. Paterson while they were considering him as a running mate in 2006, Mr. Paterson assured them that some of his more liberal positions represented the view of the wider conference rather than himself, a Spitzer source said.

Mr. Paterson's father Basil Paterson, a former secretary of state in New York who is advising his son on his transition, has strong ties to some of New York's most powerful labor unions, a link that may pose a conflict of interest for the administration when it negotiates contracts.

In 2006, the elder Mr. Paterson represented the Transport Workers Union on a three-member arbitration panel convened in the wake of a three-day transit strike. Basil Paterson, an attorney, also negotiates contracts on behalf of 1199 SEIU, which represents health care employees, the United Federation of Teachers, and Teamsters Local 237.

In interviews, Democrats and Republicans spoke glowingly of David Paterson's collegiality and his history of reaching across partisan divides and embracing compromise, qualities they had found lacking in his disgraced predecessor.

As governor, Mr. Spitzer marshaled his donor base and the state Democratic Party apparatus against Republicans, whom he viewed as an adversary that needed to be eliminated. Senate Republicans said they were confident that Mr. Paterson would steer a more diplomatic course.

"We are going to partner with the lieutenant governor when he becomes governor," the Republican majority leader of the Senate, Joseph Bruno, said at a press conference. "And David has always been very open with me, very forthright. I look forward to a positive, productive relationship as soon as possible."

Yet, as lawmakers note from their experience with Mr. Spitzer, relationships with the governor can head south quickly. On January 3 2007, two days after Mr. Spitzer took office, Mr. Bruno offered the governor a similarly worded invocation.

"I've got to tell you, this is a partner that we look forward to working with. He has said all the right things … all of the right things, all of the right priorities," he said then before the news cameras.

"The job does a funny thing to people," a Republican senator of Brooklyn, Martin Golden, said of the governorship.

(nysun.com)

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