David Paterson is governor of New York

Took office Monday afternoon
March 18, 2008 4:15:24 AM PDT
David Paterson is New York's governor, sworn in just after 1 p.m. and vowing to move past the scandal that has rocked the state Capitol.Paterson, who is legally blind, was interrupted several times during his address with thunderous applause. Before his speech, lawmakers in the ornate Assembly chamber gave him a two-minute standing ovation and chanted his name: "David! David! David!"

"This transition today is an historic message to the world: That we live by the same values that we profess, and we are a government of laws, not individuals," Paterson said.

Paterson, 53, rose from the lieutenant governor's office after Eliot Spitzer resigned last week amid allegations that he hired a call girl from a high-priced escort service. It was a dramatic fall for Spitzer, who was elected with an overwhelming share of the vote and who had vowed to root out corruption at the Capitol.

Paterson, who becomes New York's 55th governor, has said he will get right to work on the state budget and other matters. The Legislature faces an April 1 deadline to pass an estimated $124 billion budget.

"We move forward. Today is Monday. There is work to be done," Paterson said. "There was an oath to be taken. There's trust that needs to be restored. There are issues that need to be addressed."

Meanwhile, while Paterson hasn't even been in office for 24 hours, there is already a shocking revelation about his personal life.

According to the Daily News, Paterson and his wife both admit to having had extramarital affairs during a rocky point in their marrage nearly 10 years ago.

Paterson reportedly admits to having an affair with a woman that lasted more than two years.

There was a different focus in Albany Monday afternoon, though, as Paterson received a boisterous welcome and hearty applause for his calls for bipartisanship on other tough issues facing New York. He said health care, education, jobs and problems facing "the single mother with two jobs" needed immediate attention.

He said it's time for New York politicians to put power struggles aside in the interest of public service.

"What we are going to do from now on is what we always should have done all along," he said. "We're going to work together."

Paterson spoke for 26 minutes - about half of it engaged in the banter and self-deprecating humor that helped define him as a lawmaker and lieutenant governor - without notes or teleprompter. The humor seemed aimed to move beyond the damage Spitzer did to relations between the executive and legislative branches. He playfully teased Assembly Minority Leader James Tedisco, whom Spitzer famously and profanely said he would steamroll, that he would teach him how to play basketball. Tedisco, an upstate Republican, was a basketball star at Union College.

His wife, Michelle Paterson, had tears in her eyes for most of the ceremony.

"Every time I hear David speak, I want to cry," she said afterward. "I'm just very happy I was able to live to see this day."

Lawmakers past and present, including presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and governors from three neighboring states, attended the ceremony. Spitzer was not in attendance and former aides said he was at his farmhouse in Columbia County, just south of Albany.

"It is extraordinarily historic, but it is also a great moment of personal achievement for Gov. Paterson and I love the way he had his story connected with the story of New York," said New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who walked out of the Assembly chamber with Paterson. "I really thought that he was able to take the moment about himself and really marry it to the challenges facing New York. And it was brilliant."

Paterson was Spitzer's lieutenant governor for just 14 months. Before that, he was a Democratic state senator since 1985, representing parts of Harlem and Manhattan's Upper West Side. He would be the first legally blind governor to serve more than a few days in office.

His father, Basil, a former state senator representing Harlem and later New York's first black secretary of state, was part of a political fraternity that included fellow Democrats U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel, Dinkins and former Manhattan Borough President Percy Sutton.

Federal prosecutors must still decide whether to pursue charges against Spitzer. The married father of three teenage girls was accused of spending tens of thousands of dollars on prostitutes - including a call girl "Kristen" in Washington the night before Valentine's Day.

The mood was ebullient Monday and most politicians said they were hopeful that Paterson can help the state recover from the shock of the past week.

Paterson took the oath of office from Chief Judge Judith Kaye, who ascended to the pinnacle of the state's highest court after former Chief Judge Sol Wachtler was caught in a scandal.

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer said New Yorkers are ready to put the scandal behind them.

"I think most of us are optimistic that this could be a really terrific time for New York state and Albany with Gov. Paterson," said Schumer, a Democrat.

The Spitzer scandal has captured the nation's attention and even made the opening skit of Saturday Night Live this weekend. In a phony law commercial, an actor playing Spitzer said he would take on any case because he couldn't be embarrassed any more than he already was. The weekend before Spitzer's resignation became official, St. Patrick's day revelers at Albany's parade were spotted wearing T-shirts labeling them as clients numbered one through nine.

Federal court papers say Spitzer, identified as Client 9, paid for a prostitute to take a train in February from New York to Washington for an encounter at an upscale hotel.

Paterson said he knows it's an extraordinary event that has made him the governor of New York and that it's been a challenging week for the state. While he's not celebrating in Spitzer's troubles, Paterson proudly reintroduced himself at the close of his speech: "I am David Paterson and I am the governor of New York!"

The most important state business is the budget and with an expected debt of more than $4.6 billion, Paterson's first test won't be easy.

Senate Republican leader Joseph Bruno said the Democrat-led Assembly and his Republican majority in the Senate remain billions apart in budget negotiations, and "David is going to be right in the middle."

"I think he can be one of the best governors the state has ever had," Bruno said.

Sheldon Silver, talking to reporters on his way into the swearing-in, said adopting a budget will be the priority even with the recent turmoil.

"It's a daunting task, but I think with all the good will that's created, with the leadership of David Paterson, we're going to have a logical conclusion to a budget process," he said.

Rev. Al Sharpton said Paterson is "the most conservative" among black leaders in their generation.

"I don't think there's a better person who can step into the gap, moral gap and economic gap, than David Paterson," said Sharpton, who met with Paterson Monday morning.


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