David Paterson launched his campaign for a full four-year term as New York's governor Saturday with a combative campaign speech that mocked recent reports about his job performance and personal life.
"After all you have heard, there's one rumor I will confirm, I am running for governor this year," Paterson said to a crowd of about 400 at Hofstra University. "They haven't knocked us down yet and they never will."
For two weeks, aides have been wrestling unsubstantiated rumors about the governor's personal life and in the past week publicly criticized a lengthy New York Times profile that portrayed Paterson as distracted and disengaged.
Conceding he's had a "difficult past few weeks," Paterson said he intends to press ahead.
"Innuendo and ridicule and false rumors, they leave a long and lasting effect. And it's no surprise that it comes in the middle of a budget process where special interests have a lot to lose, and at the beginning of a campaign," Paterson said to cheers. "This is not about me, this is about the people of the state of New York."
Paterson's announcement makes him the first Democrat in the race, but probably not the last.
Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is expected to challenge Paterson in a primary. Cuomo is more popular in polls, among Democrats and, perhaps most importantly, with well-heeled campaign donors. He's currently sitting on a $16 million campaign account and hasn't even said yet whether he'll run; Paterson has about $3 million.
Leaked reports last September said President Barack Obama was among those who have pressured Paterson to step aside in the name of party unity.
Reflecting the possibility of an internal party fight, the lone politician on stage with Paterson on Saturday was the mayor of the village of Hempstead, Wayne Hall. Some Nassau County Democratic legislators and other local officials were in the audience.
"I think the turnout is about what we expected," said state party chairman Jay Jacobs, who also serves as Nassau County. "It's a nice welcome for the governor."
Paterson became governor in March 2008 after Eliot Spitzer resigned amid a prostitution scandal. Early on, the "accidental governor" won warm reviews for his collegial relations with the legislature, where he spent 20 years as a dealmaking senator. It was a sharp contrast to the surly Spitzer who tried unsuccessfully to bully his agenda through the partisan state Capitol.
Voters, too, seemed to like the affable Paterson, responding favorably to his calls for fiscal restraint and unique televised address, warning of financial calamity unless lawmakers got serious about cutting spending.
Series of missteps
Then, a series of missteps started to chip away at his popularity. His chief of staff admitted not paying income taxes for five years and ultimately resigned. In January 2009, Paterson was panned for his muffed handling of a U.S. Senate replacement for Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
The early front-runner, Caroline Kennedy, made a messy withdrawal from consideration and a person close to Paterson later leaked information to try to smear her, angering America's pre-eminent Democratic family and others within the party. The governor ultimately chose a little known upstate representative, Kirsten Gillibrand, to succeed Clinton.
Amid the clamor, he wasn't getting his agenda or his fiscal controls through the legislature. Democrats bickered about their newly won power in the Senate and he was criticized for being unable to broker a peace. Special-interest groups ran multimillion-dollar TV ads that can punish even a governor who's riding high in the polls, and Paterson wasn't.
On the Republican side, former Long Island congressman Rick Lazio is the only declared candidate.
Paterson planned a campaign stop later Saturday in Rochester and on Sunday in western New York.