David Paterson was sworn in as governor Monday before a crowd of lawmakers who chanted his name and cheered his message of unity in a state eager to move past his predecessor’s sordid and speedy political collapse.
Paterson became the state’s first black chief executive and nation’s second legally blind governor almost exactly a week after allegations first surfaced that Gov. Eliot Spitzer was “Client 9” of a high-priced call girl service.
“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.”
Spitzer, according to ex-aides, was at his Columbia County farmhouse 48 miles south at the time of Paterson’s swearing-in.
Where Spitzer’s 14-month tenure was marked by partisan sniping, Paterson, a fellow Democrat, reached across the aisle in his remarks from the ornate Assembly chamber. The crowd gave the new governor a two-minute standing ovation and chanted “David! David! David!”
“What we are going to do from now on is what we always should have done all along,” the former state senator said. “We’re going to work together.”
Laughs follow playful jabs
Legislators gave Paterson hearty applause when he called for cooperation, and laughs when he made playful jabs at Republican leaders.
He said Senate Republican leader Joseph Bruno, probably Spitzer’s most bitter rival, had invited him to dinner at his ranch: “I’ll go. I’m going to take my taster with me.”
He 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.
Paterson, 53, rose from the lieutenant governor’s office after 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.
“This transition today is a 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 took the oath of office from Chief Judge Judith Kaye, who ascended to the pinnacle of the state’s highest court in 1993 after former Chief Judge Sol Wachtler was caught threatening and harassing an ex-lover.
Paterson, who becomes New York’s 55th governor, has said he will get right to work. The Legislature faces an April 1 deadline to pass an estimated $124 billion budget, and Paterson also said that health care, education, jobs and problems facing “the single mother with two jobs” need immediate attention.
Comfortable at the podium
Paterson spoke for 26 minutes — about half of it engaged in the banter and humor that helped define him as a lawmaker and lieutenant governor — without notes or teleprompter.
He joked about his limited vision — he can see things close to him out of one eye.
At Spitzer’s last State of the State address, he said, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver stopped him from accidentally breaking a glass with his gavel, then told him, “I will not allow you to turn the State of the State into a Jewish wedding.”
Before reluctantly accepting Spitzer’s offer to run with him as lieutenant governor, Paterson was a Democratic state senator for more than two decades, representing parts of Harlem and Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
His wife, Michelle Paige 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.”
Politicians 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.
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.
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.
Silver, talking to reporters on his way to the swearing-in, said adopting a budget will be the priority even with the recent turmoil. With an expected debt of more than $4.6 billion, the job won’t be easy.
“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,” Silver said.
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.