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Next in line, David Paterson would become N.Y.'s first black governor

Updated on March 11, 2008

Tuesday, March 11th 2008, 4:00 AM


Lt. Gov. David Paterson would succeed Gov. Spitzer if he quits over sex scandal.

Lt. Gov. David Paterson will make history on two fronts if he takes over for Gov. Spitzer: He'd be New York's first black governor - and the first to be legally blind.

Paterson, 53, the son of longtime Harlem political leader Basil Paterson and a former minority leader of the state Senate, was widely viewed as a top possibility to replace Sen. Hillary Clinton if she won the White House.

Paterson was hunkered down in his office on the second floor of the state Capitol for most of the day, getting briefed by aides to Spitzer.

Former Mayor David Dinkins, the city's first black chief executive, said Paterson is well-prepared to take over the governor's mansion.

"I do not call for the governor's resignation," Dinkins said. "[But] were he to resign, I think David Paterson would make a superb governor."

Former Manhattan Borough President Virginia Fields, who has known Paterson for years, said she believes the lieutenant governor would be a "phenomenal" chief executive.

He gets along very well with other people and knows how to work through coalitions, she said. If Spitzer resigns, Fields said, Paterson is ideally equipped "to bring some healing to this state." Rep. Pete King (R-L.I.) also offered praise for Paterson. He called him "a class act."

In 2006, Spitzer asked Paterson, then the state Senate minority leader, to be his running mate. Spitzer wanted Paterson to widen his appeal among minority-group members.

Giving up his leadership post in the Senate was no small decision because many believe Democrats may soon control the chamber. And Senate majority leader is a powerful position, while lieutenant governor has virtually no power.

Paterson's decision to give up the Senate post was widely viewed in political circles as his laying the groundwork to succeed Clinton, should she become President. Now, if he takes over for Spitzer, he would be the one to choose a Clinton successor.

During the 2006 campaign, tensions simmered between the Spitzer and Paterson camps, with Paterson and his aides feeling as if Spitzer was trying to muzzle him. Paterson is known as a candid politician who speaks his mind.

The tension culminated on Election Night, when a Spitzer aide prevented Paterson's parents from walking on the stage to share the special moment with their son, a source said.

A Spitzer aide said allowing Paterson's parents on stage "would have delayed Eliot from getting on," the source said.

The tensions between the two men's offices have bled into the first 14 months of the administration, a source said, leaving Paterson feeling as if he wasn't a close member of the Spitzer team.

When Paterson was a few months old, he developed an infection that left him totally blind in one eye and with severely limited sight in the other.


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