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2008-03-13

David Paterson to Become First African American Gov in NY History, First Blind Gov in US History

Guests

Herb Boyd, Harlem-based activist, teacher, author and journalist. He edits the online publication The Black World Today and writes for several publications, including Amsterdam News.

Liz Krueger, New York State Senator representing parts of Manhattan.

Carl Augusto, president and CEO of the American Foundation for the Blind. David Paterson served on the foundation’s board from 1997 to 2006.

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On Monday, New York Lieutenant Governor David Paterson will be sworn in to replace Eliot Spitzer as the state’s chief executive. Paterson will become New York’s first African American governor and the first blind governor in the nation’s history. We speak with Harlem journalist Herb Boyd, who has covered Paterson for years; New York State Senator Liz Krueger, who worked closely with David Paterson during his time in the New York Senate; and Carl Augusto, the president of the American Foundation for the Blind. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Eliot Spitzer’s term as New York’s governor came to a tumultuous end Wednesday just two days after it was reported that he was a client in a high-end prostitution ring. At a news conference Wednesday, Spitzer stood next to his wife Silda and announced his resignation.

    GOV. ELIOT SPITZER: Over the course of my public life, I have insisted, I believe correctly, that people, regardless of their position or power, take responsibility for their conduct. I can and will ask no less of myself. For this reason, I am resigning from the office of governor. At Lieutenant Governor Paterson’s request, the resignation will be effective Monday, March 17, a date that he believes will permit an orderly transition.

    I go forward with the belief, as others have said, that as human beings our greatest glory consists not in never falling but in rising every time we fall. As I leave public life, I will first do what I need to do to help and heal myself and my family. Then I will try once again, outside of politics, to serve the common good and to move toward the ideals and solutions which I believe can build a future of hope and opportunity for us and for our children.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Spitzer became the first New York governor to be forced out in almost a century. Federal prosecutors have yet to file any charges against Spitzer, but according to press accounts, he is negotiating a plea bargain. Many questions still remain over whether the investigation of Spitzer was politically motivated.

On Monday, Lieutenant Governor David Paterson will be sworn in as Spitzer’s replacement. Paterson will thus become New York’s first African American governor and the first blind chief executive in the nation’s history.

On Wednesday, Senator Chuck Schumer said Paterson would be an excellent governor.

    SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER: Paterson and I spoke this morning. I pledged my full support and cooperation. David Paterson will be a first-rate governor, and he has my full confidence. He’s smart. He brings people together. And he’s always grown in every job that he’s served.

    I told him this morning that this is — stepping into being governor in this way is very challenging, and he shouldn’t expect that he can just on day one know everything and do everything, but he’s a very good — he’s very good at learning a job and excelling at it. I’ve watched him do that over the years, as we’ve been friends, and I know that he will be an excellent governor for New York. And my hope and belief is that the people of New York will stand right behind David Paterson, Democrat, Republican, whether you live in Montauk or Buffalo, North Country or Binghamton, everyone will stand behind the governor and will try to unite and move our state forward.

JUAN GONZALEZ: For Paterson, the rise to governorship caps a groundbreaking career. He was born in Brooklyn to a prominent political family. As a baby, he lost most of his sight due to an infection. His family moved to Hempstead, New York, because New York City school officials refused to allow Paterson to attend regular classes. In 1984, he was elected to the State Senate representing Harlem. Paterson became minority leader in 2002 and then was elected lieutenant governor last year. He was one of the speakers at the Democratic National Convention in 2004.

    DAVID PATERSON: I have a vision for New York State. I can’t see it with my eyes, but I feel it in my heart.

AMY GOODMAN: For more on the incoming governor of New York, we’re joined by Herb Boyd. He’s a Harlem activist, journalist, author, historian, edits the online publication The Black World Today, writes for several publications, including the Amsterdam News. We’re also joined by Carl Augusto. He’s the president of the American Foundation for the Blind. David Paterson served on the foundation’s board from 1997 to 2006. They both join us in our firehouse studio. And we’re also joined on the telephone from Albany by New York State Senator Liz Krueger. She worked closely with David Paterson during his time in the New York State Senate.

Herb Boyd, let’s begin with you —-

HERB BOYD: Sure.

AMY GOODMAN: —- for a profile of David Paterson, who the incoming governor is.

HERB BOYD: Well, you talk about someone who comes from out of a remarkable family. I mean, his father Basil Paterson was the first black secretary of state here in New York. He was surrounded by the so-called Gang of Four, these godfathers. I mean, David Dinkins and Charles Rangel and the esteemed Percy Sutton. So he was nurtured in a kind of political background. Can imagine growing up in a situation like that, where you have these — your kingpins of the whole political firmament, you know, there to kind of counsel you? So he had that kind of advantage, and he took full of advantage of it, Amy, right from the beginning.

JUAN GONZALEZ: His father Basil was secretary of state himself of New York —-

HERB BOYD: Exactly.

JUAN GONZALEZ: —- and was also deputy mayor under Ed Koch —-

HERB BOYD: Under Koch.

JUAN GONZALEZ: —- and has been active his entire political life, hasn’t he?

HERB BOYD: Oh, indeed. I mean, you know, coming — he had some — in the beginning, though, Juan, you know, when he was in college at Columbia University and later went on to Hofstra, where he got his law degree, but he had the kind of a failing of self-esteem; he felt like he was not socially developed. But after working with David Dinkins and his campaign and being elected to the State Senate, he began to find his particular call. And I think this moment is something I think he’s really ready for, because he’s been prepared twenty years in the Senate. I mean, he knows — no one knows how to navigate Albany like David Paterson.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Juan, Basil Paterson, his father, you’ve covered for years, the labor lawyer.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Yes. And basically, I remember having an interview with Basil, just at the time that Spitzer tapped David to be his running mate, and asked him why would he leave a position —- at that time, he was the Minority Leader of the Senate, and the Democrats were very poised almost to recapture the Senate. He would then become one of the most powerful people in Albany. But at the time, there was the thought that if Hillary Clinton was elected president, there would be an empty Senate seat. And I think Basil’s hope was that Governor Spitzer would name David Paterson to fill the empty Senate seat if Hillary Clinton was elected. And I said, “But you’re still leaving a powerful post.” And Basil said to me at that time, he said, “Yes, but remember, you’re only a heartbeat away from being governor.” And it turns out now that that was an amazing decision to make, because right now he is the new governor of New York.

HERB BOYD: That’s right. Very prescient on his part, you know, because -—

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to a break, and then we’re going to come back. We’re talking about the incoming governor of New York, David Paterson. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: Our guests are Harlem journalist Herb Boyd, he is the editor of the online publication The Black World Today; in our studio also, Carl Augusto, president and CEO of American Foundation for the Blind; and in Albany is a close colleague of David Paterson, the incoming governor of New York, Liz Krueger, New York state senator. Juan?

JUAN GONZALEZ: Yes, I’d like to ask Senator Krueger, you’ve worked with David Paterson now for several years. Tell us about what kind of a reputation he had in the Senate up in Albany among legislators and how — and also a little bit about his political views.

SEN. LIZ KRUEGER: Well, I have worked with David since I joined the State Senate in the year 2002. And we actually became quite close friends over these years, working very closely together to try to shift the dynamic of the legislature and, in fact, the party control of the State Senate. And I have to tell you that after twenty years of working in this town, David does understand the ins and outs of the legislature and the politics of this town better than most people up here. He has also spent the last year and a half, obviously, working closely with the state agencies and the people that Eliot Spitzer brought into the State of New York. And while I’m pretty sure that before Monday he had no idea that by a week from that day he would end up the governor of State of New York, it’s not clear to me that there would be a more obvious candidate to become the governor in an emergency situation such as this.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, State Senator Krueger, you and David Paterson were part of a kind of a coup in 2002, as you took power in the Democratic Party in the State Senate. Can you talk about what happened and State Senator, at the time, Paterson’s role?

SEN. LIZ KRUEGER: Well, you know, actually, in fairness — people always say I was big part of the coup — I was actually a new state senator taking a spot in a special election in February ’02 and then having to run against a billionaire candidate in November ’02. So to be quite honest, I was running to make sure I could stay in the seat I had just taken.

And it was really only two days after I won that seat that my friend David Paterson called and said, “You’ve been a little busy, so I didn’t want to bother you until the election was over, but you’re here in the State Senate to try to change the state government. That’s what I think you know I want to do. And we need to make some changes in the Democratic Conference in order to accomplish our goals. Will you be with me to support me as the new leader of the Democratic Conference when a vote comes up sometime in the next few weeks?” And to be honest, we met and talked about it a bit. And I asked him, you know, if I were to join him in this and we were to lose, what would happen? And he said, “Your political career would probably be over.” And I thought, gee, I just spent twenty-four months trying to get here in the first place.

But, you know, in fact, he was right. We needed to make some serious changes to move forward. And so, it didn’t take me very long to decide that even though many people thought it was a pretty high-risk situation that I would join and support David, but I was certainly not the first one on board. And in fact, some others in my conference had been working with him for much, much longer on that agenda.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And, Liz Krueger, in terms of some of his political views, most people are not aware that on many issues he was actually even much more to the left or more progressive than Eliot Spitzer. Certainly he’s an opponent of capital punishment. He was also in — very much favored the reform of the Rockefeller drug laws that have put so many people in jail for such huge sentences for minor drug offenses. Are there any other issues that stick out in your mind, in terms of like issues that are close to him or political matters that he wants to make reform on up in Albany?

SEN. LIZ KRUEGER: Well, if I — I think you hit on two of them, Juan. I mean, one of the realities is that Eliot Spitzer came out of being the attorney general as a prosecutor, and so there’s a certain mindset that goes along with that in the context of criminal justice. And absolutely, David has always been against the death penalty, as have I. And we felt that we would probably never totally win over Governor Spitzer on that issue. And again, on the criminal justice standard on drug laws, I think that actually the Governor was coming along with us on that — the previous governor. But for David, there was no learning curve or issue.

I also spent twenty years of my life working an anti-poverty program. And I knew right away when I met David that my own experience of working to try to improve programs for low-income New Yorkers fit very much was with his own ideology and, frankly, with his own experience, having represented the community of Harlem for so many years in the state legislature.

So I think it is true, David is a more progressive on a number of political issues than Eliot Spitzer was. And on the other hand, I think they were both completely committed to reforming the structure of how we do business in Albany. And I am very excited about the fact that I know that David Paterson is going to continue to push that agenda of reforming how we do our budget and our legislative process and making sure that this is a more inclusive and transparent process for all nineteen million New Yorkers.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re also joined by Carl Augusto, president and CEO of American Foundation for the Blind. David Paterson served on its board for a number of years. He will be the first blind executive in this country. Carl Augusto, talk about David Paterson and the significance of this.

CARL AUGUSTO: Well, first of all, I want to correct something that you and Juan have been saying. He’s not the first chief executive who happens to be blind; he’s the first state chief executive. There have been many blind people who have served as chief executive officers. I’m the CEO of the American Foundation for the Blind. Granted, AFB is a little smaller than the State of New York, but I just wanted to clear that up to make sure that that point is clear.

First and foremost, David Paterson is a skillful and accomplished political leader. Herb and Liz have already said that. Second of all, he is a wonderful human being, and I think they’ve alluded to that, too. Third of all, he possesses various characteristics. One of them is legal blindness. And knowing David, as I have when he served on the board, his blindness has not played an important role in his life. He has been able to adapt to his blindness. He functions independently. He has done what he has done very, very well with blindness. So it’s not played a very significant part of his life.

AMY GOODMAN: Although, interestingly, when he was a child, he couldn’t get into the regular classes, schools in New York, so his family moved out to Long Island to Hempstead.

CARL AUGUSTO: Yeah. Thank goodness the law has changed. The law of the land has changed, and mainstreaming is a regular practice now, and it’s part of the law.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And in terms of his day-to-day functioning, we were talking earlier on in terms of what the limits of his sight were, and you had some interesting observations in terms of his day-to-day functioning.

CARL AUGUSTO: Yes. He does have trouble reading print, so he would not be able to read something like a statement. He does see shapes. He — when he gets close to familiar faces, he will recognize people. He’ll walk next to someone in a hall, in a corridor, doesn’t need to use what we refer to as sighted guide technique, which means holding the elbow of a sighted person walking down, because he could see the person next to him. So he has adapted very, very well, and he functions very well.

AMY GOODMAN: Refused to learn braille as a child?

CARL AUGUSTO: Yeah, he does not know braille. There are very successful blind people who use very, very different techniques. Some use braille. Some use note-taking devices and braille and speech. David is not a techy. Well, neither am I. So we’ve been able to function using other adaptive methods very successfully.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, he’s known for his friendly, colorful speeches. He doesn’t use a teleprompter, of course.

CARL AUGUSTO: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: We were at the Max Roach funeral last August, when David Paterson spoke at Riverside Church in Manhattan during the funeral of the jazz legend Max Roach. This is what David Paterson had to say.

    LT. GOV. DAVID PATERSON: I don’t know what I’m supposed to say after Mr. Cosby’s drum lesson. But those of us who have dared to continue to experience life as an African American in this country know that we have celebrated great talent in our communities, the capacity to derive great success, but that those who have had talent knew that talent got you very little in this society. It was talent and struggle that changed the environment for all of us.

    We have celebrated people in our community who had that talent. Paul Robeson, a singer and actor, a scholar, an athlete, a political scientists, a philosopher, a linguist, a lawyer, he could have gotten along very well just by going along, but chose rather to speak out against injustice with the truth. Harriet Tubman had the talent to escape her bondage, but she went back into the South over forty times to save her brothers and sisters from slavery, her strategy still studied at West Point Academy today. Malcolm X, who lived in our time but offered us a steadfast disciplined criticism and honesty about the America there was for whites and the America was for the so-called thirty million Negroes of his time. And right here at Riverside Church, we have transferred those to their reward in celebration, people such as James Baldwin and Betty Shabazz and Ossie Davis.

    Today, we add to that list a young man who came from Newland, North Carolina, came to the community of Bedford-Stuyvesant, attended Concord Baptist Church, attended boys high school, and by the time he graduated, everyone in the jazz community knew that a new prodigy was among us. He had talent. He performed with Duke Ellington and Charlie Parker. He performed with Dizzy Gillespie. He performed with the unsung Coleman Hawkins, with Oscar Brown, with Clifford Brown, the great trumpet virtuoso who died tragically in 1954, and with Charlie Mingus. And his talent brought him great acclaim, but he chose rather to join those very elite, those very few people in societies who knew that struggle and talent could give more than just his own success, but could raise up his community.

    No one ever wrote a bad thing about Max Roach’s music or his aura until 1960, when he and Charlie Mingus protested the practices of the Newport Jazz Festival. And when he co-authored We Insist!, demanding freedom in the suites, it was only then that his own music was pandered and called polemic by some of the so-called music evaluators. But his struggle went on. He became the catalyst for the black liberation movement, for the great achievement that we have derived since then. And as we mourn his loss today, we can celebrate our own status as a result of the fact that he came among us.

    Now, I’m going to sit down, as soon as I figure out how to get down from here, but while I’m still here, I would just suggest that thousands of years ago somebody invented fire. And although I think they were probably burned at the stake that they taught their brothers and sisters to light, they nevertheless offered us the gift that had never been perceived and forever lifted darkness from the face of the earth. If you think about it, over the last centuries, there have been women and men who have taken first steps down new roads, sometimes armed with nothing but their own vision, and they fought, they suffered and they paid, but what they brought us was freedom. And so, today, Paul Robeson, Harriet Tubman and Malcolm X celebrate God’s newest drummer, Max Roach.

AMY GOODMAN: David Paterson, remembering Max Roach, he was speaking at Riverside Church. David Paterson, the incoming governor of New York. Our guests: Herb Boyd, has covered David Paterson for many years, lives down the road from him in Harlem; Liz Krueger, state senator in Albany, also on the phone with us. Herb Boyd is —-

HERB BOYD: Well, that’s just exemplary, so emblematic, you know, of the range of knowledge that he has. He’s a jazz authority. I mean, he’s a jazz historian right there, right? And I think, you know, in terms of the extraordinary memory, almost encyclopedic, you know, having that breadth of information, it’s just astounding. And I think it’s just -— you know, you talk about someone, I feel, that would be just a treasure, you know, going into this new position out there, because he has a sensitivity and compassion that is just absolutely unrivaled.

JUAN GONZALEZ: I’d like to ask you what the emotional state is among longtime residents of Harlem these days, because now you’re in the situation, as you were mentioning the Gang of Four before, where you have Charles Rangel, the Harlem representative, is now one of the most powerful members of the House of Representatives, the chairman of Ways and Means, and now David Paterson is the governor of New York, in terms of the political influence of Harlem in New York, in the nation’s affairs now.

HERB BOYD: Exactly. It kind of like goes full-circle now. It kind of brings to a pinnacle another achievement, another remarkable breakthrough, another barrier, you know, that we’ve broken through. And I think it promises very well that some other things are coming, too. I think this is kind of a wedge that we have, you know, in terms of breaking through in the political arena.

But it’s nothing new for David. I mean, look at all the other barriers. I mean, he’s overcome these obstacles. We talked with Carl about his legal blindness. We talked about his being the first in terms of a major leader in the State Senate, I mean, as a Minority Leader, and as you said earlier, Juan, on the brink of becoming the Majority Leader, depending on how the vote went. But then, here you have someone who now is the fourth black governor, you know, in this country. He realizes the burden, the responsibility that he faces, and believe me, he has a number of challenges in front of him.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go back to State Senator Liz Krueger. I saw you on Monday. It was the most surreal moment, now that we reflect back, the moment of a thousand people coming together around reproductive rights, around the Reproductive Health and Protection Privacy Act that the Governor had introduced, that David Paterson got up and spoke for that morning. We didn’t know why the Governor wasn’t there. We have since learned. But that, pushing that through, which is one of the most progressive pieces of state legislation in the country, can you talk about that, where this will go? And, of course, you have a major budget battle in Albany that David Paterson parachutes right into the middle of.

SEN. LIZ KRUEGER: Well, you’re so right. And just to go back to the speech that people just listened to, so there you heard the epitome of David Paterson, both his humanity and his knowledge base. Well, I can tell you, he does the same thing when it comes to budget issues or legislative issues or controversial public policy debates, such as the one that we are in the midst of throughout this country right now, about what the role of states should be in protecting women’s reproductive rights, because those of us who follow this issue in all fifty states recognize that we are at risk of losing those protections at the federal level through the existing Supreme Court, and hence we must go back and take on our role as state governments to protect our own citizens.

And so, yes, Monday morning was the Family Planning Advocates’ annual event in Albany, which is reproductive rights advocates and healthcare providers and citizens from throughout the state. Eliot Spitzer was supposed to give the keynote regarding his reproductive rights law. David so ably stepped in, again, because it was not the first time David had been talking about these issues, and it wasn’t going to be the last time he was talking about the importance of these issues. So, that is, of course, a tough bill to move through a Republican senate. We are still — Democrats are about — we’re one seat from a tie. There’s a little debate this week about whether Joe Bruno gets two votes or not now. We don’t think he does. So we’re still a few votes from being in a place where I’m comfortable saying we will be able to support David Paterson by moving that bill through the Senate.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Juan, you also wrote about who will be the new secretary of the governor, the significance of this position, former Jesuit priest.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Yes. And, Liz, you’ve actually been dealing with him quite a bit now, Charles O’Byrne, who will become the chief staff person, I guess, the secretary of the governor, a former Jesuit priest and a former organizer for Howard Dean before he went to work for David Paterson. But this is obviously a lot bigger portfolio now than he expected when he went to work for the Lieutenant Governor. Your expectations of his performance?

SEN. LIZ KRUEGER: Well, Charles is an extraordinarily talented man. He’s an attorney, as well as — you’re right — having been a Jesuit priest. And I think the combination of his training in both of those professions has served him well in being the chief of staff to David Paterson up until now. And yes, David takes an enormously large leap on Monday to be the new governor of New York State, and Charles O’Byrne also takes that leap. But as confident as I am in David, and I think all your other guests are, because he has an amazingly rapid learning curve, skill set, as well, I believe Charles also does. He has been working on the second floor with Lieutenant Governor Paterson since the first day of the Spitzer administration. It is my understanding that he has been in on almost all of the senior meetings of the Governor and his people on behalf of David during all of this time.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to leave it there. I want to thank you both for being with us. Liz Krueger, New York state senator, joining us from Albany, she represents parts of Manhattan. Herb Boyd, journalist and author, he’s the editor of the online publication The Black World Today. And I also wanted to thank Carl Augusto, who is the president of the American Foundation for the Blind.

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