The woman behind the next governor

March 13, 2008 3:22:05 PM PDT
With New York set to swear in a new governor on Monday, many are wondering who is the woman behind David Paterson?Eyewitness News reporter Kemberly Richardson has more on Michelle Paterson, the next first lady.

She's an eloquent, spiritual woman who has been an active member of the Abyssinian Baptist Church for more than a decade.

Michelle Paige Paterson has great interest in health cares issues, recently focusing on the problem of childhood obesity in Harlem, where she lives with her family.

Many believe the 46-year-old mother of two will be an effective first lady.

A high-rise complex on 132nd Street is home to David Paterson and his wife, Michelle, who many consider the first lady of Harlem. She is a woman embarking on a historic journey.

"It does not yet appear completely what heights she will ascend to, but we know, clearly, that she is on an ascension," the Reverend Calvin Butts said.

Reverend Butts has known Michelle and the lieutenant governor for years. Both are members of the congregation at Abyssinian.

While his career has placed him directly in the spotlight, Michelle has remained relatively out of its glare. That is something that's about to change in her role as first lady of the state.

It is a position where Reverend Butts believes she may find herself on the defense as her husband assumes the role of governor.

"He's going to be attacked from many sides," Rev. Butts said. "Many people are not necessarily as happy as most of us are with his ascension to the governor's seat. So she's got to be very, very careful. She is capable because she has a deep faith, and that faith helps to stabilize her."

Michelle spent years working at Harlem's North General Hospital in community and government relations. She was instrumental in saving the facility from financial ruin in 2001, successfully lobbying lawmakers in Albany to restructure the hospital's debt.

She is now an executive at HIP Health Plans, and also spends time volunteering and raising the couple's children, 19-year-old Ashley and 13-year-old Alex.

"She doesn't wear the badge of David Paterson's wife," longtime friend and former state comptroller Carl McCall said. "She is Michelle Paige Paterson, a outstanding professional in her own right."

Michelle attended Syracuse University, where she majored in speech communications and graduated in 1983. She then went on to study management and urban policy.

And now, in her new role, many point out she is a role model for women of all kinds, particularly those of color.