Less than two years after he reluctantly ran for lieutenant governor, David Paterson on Monday will become the third black governor since Reconstruction, and the first in New York.
Attention turned to Paterson immediately after word surfaced that Gov. Eliot Spitzer had been linked to a high-priced prostitution ring. Paterson will complete Spitzer's term, which ends Dec. 31, 2010.
Paterson, a 53-year-old Democrat from Harlem who is mostly blind, is well-respected by Republicans and Democrats.
Former New York City Mayor Edward Koch recently called Paterson "very capable, not withstanding his near sightlessness. It's never impeded his public actions or his personal actions, and he's really overcome it in an extraordinary way."
Paterson, who does not use a cane or a guide dog, can make out shapes and even people up close. He lost most of his sight as an infant when an infection damaged his optic nerve. He still talks of his fragile self-esteem in childhood and recalls not being invited to parties because "people thought I would fall and hurt myself."
Disability never an issue
Paterson's disability has never been an issue in Albany in his 20-year political career. He has memorized lengthy, impassioned speeches without missing a mark.
"He's knowledgeable about New York state government and politics, and he's a guy who likes to get along with people," said Maurice Carroll, director of Quinnipiac University's Polling Institute and a longtime New York political reporter.
The only other black governors since Reconstruction were Deval Patrick, currently serving in Massachusetts, and L. Douglas Wilder of Virginia, who left office in 1994.
As for what a Gov. Paterson would face, Carroll sees a "fairly placid, amiable time for a while."
Paterson would also have an advantage in that he would ascend to the governor's office with most of three years remaining in the term he would fill. That spares him the challenge of being a lame-duck.
Paterson has enjoyed a good relationship with Spitzer's chief nemesis, Republican Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, despite being the architect of a plan that got Democrats to within one seat of controlling the Senate.
In pointed yet humorous floor debates, a kind of father-son relationship was evident between the younger Harlem Democrat and the rural, upstate Republican, who is 78.
Two years ago, Paterson was so focused on taking control of the Senate and becoming majority leader that he was surprised by Spitzer's offer to be lieutenant governor.
"I think he's someone who is widely respected, and he has a lot of experience in the corridors of Albany," said Lee Miringoff, of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion.