David Alexander Paterson (born May 20, 1954) is an American politician and the current Governor of New York. He is the first African American governor of New York and also the first legally blind governor of any U.S. State.
After graduating from law school, Paterson worked in the District Attorney's office of Queens County, New York, and on the staff of Manhattan Borough President David Dinkins. In 1985, he was elected to the New York State Senate to a seat that was once held by his father, former New York Secretary of State Basil Paterson. In 2003, he rose to the position of Senate Minority Leader. Paterson was selected as running mate by then New York Attorney General and Democratic Party nominee Eliot Spitzer in the 2006 New York gubernatorial election. They were elected in November 2006 with 69 percent of the vote, and Paterson took office as Lieutenant Governor on January 1, 2007.
After Spitzer resigned in the wake of a prostitution scandal, Paterson was sworn in as governor of New York on March 17, 2008. Although Paterson is a lifelong Democrat who was considered a liberal during his time in the State Senate, he began earning high praise from conservatives during his time as Governor for his efforts to combat the 2008 New York fiscal crisis by major reductions in spending and the enaction of an inflation-indexed property tax cap, a school tax "circuit breaker," and unfunded mandate relief.
At the age of three months, Paterson contracted an ear infection which spread to his optic nerve, leaving him with no sight in his left eye and severely limited vision in his right. Since New York City public schools would not guarantee him an education without placing him in special education classes, his family bought a home in the Long Island suburb of Hempstead so that he could attend mainstream classes there. The first disabled student in the Hempstead public schools, he graduated from Hempstead High School in 1971.
Paterson received a BA in history from Columbia University in 1977 and a law degree from Hofstra Law School in 1983. After law school, he went to work for the Queens District Attorney's Office, but was unable to complete the New York bar examination, and so did not become an attorney at law. He attributed his failing the New York bar to insufficient accommodation for his visual impairment, and has since advocated for changes in bar exam procedures.
In 1985, Paterson resigned his position as assistant district attorney to join the campaign of then city clerk David Dinkins to win the Democratic nomination for Manhattan Borough President. That summer, on August 6, state senator Leon Bogues died, and Paterson sought and obtained the Democratic party nomination for the seat. In mid-September, a meeting of 648 Democratic committee members on the first ballot gave Paterson 58% of the vote, giving him the party nomination. That October, Paterson won the hotly contested special State Senate election. At the time, the 29th Senate district covered the Manhattan neighborhoods of Harlem, Manhattan Valley and the Upper West Side, the same district that Paterson's father had represented. Upon his election, Paterson became the youngest State Senator in Albany. He won the seat again in 1986 for a full term representing the 29th District in the New York State Senate, and served as senator until assuming the office of Lieutenant Governor on January 1, 2007.
In 2006, Paterson sponsored a controversial bill to limit the use of deadly force by the police, but later changed that position. He also supported non-citizen voting in New York local elections. According to the New York Post, he "chalked up a heavily liberal record." Describing Paterson's tenure in the senate, The New York Times cited his "wit, flurries of reform proposals and unusual bursts of candor."
In late December 2006, shortly before being sworn in as lieutenant governor, Paterson said that if he ever succeeded Spitzer as governor, he and Nelson A. Rockefeller would have something besides the governorship in common: great difficulty in reading. Rockefeller was dyslexic, which Paterson compared to his blindness. During his time as Lieutenant Governor, Paterson also served as an adjunct professor at Columbia University's School for International and Public Affairs.
As Lieutenant Governor, Paterson was involved in a range of issues, including: Stem cell research
His swearing-in ceremony was attended by all members of the New York State Senate and New York State Assembly, New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine, Connecticut Governor M. Jodi Rell, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, New York Senators Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer, former New York Governors George Pataki and Hugh Carey, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former New York City Mayors David Dinkins and Ed Koch, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, the entire New York Congressional delegation (both Democrats and Republicans), and Newark Mayor Cory Booker, among others. Former Governor Spitzer was not present.
With his swearing-in, Paterson became the first Lieutenant Governor elevated to the governorship in New York due to a vacancy since 1973, when Lieutenant Governor Malcolm Wilson became Governor upon Nelson Rockefeller's resignation.
Paterson is the first African American Governor of New York and the fourth in any U.S. state (following Reconstruction-era Louisiana Gov. P. B. S. Pinchback, former Virginia Gov. Douglas Wilder, and current Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick). The Lieutenant Governor's office will remain vacant until 2010, when the current term expires. Under the state's constitution, the president pro tempore of the state senate, Dean Skelos, a Republican, would be next in the line of succession for the Governor's office.
On July 17, 2008, Paterson was the keynote speaker addressing at the 99th annual convention of the NAACP in Cincinnati, Ohio. Other speakers included Congressman Charles Rangel and Presidential Candidate John McCain.
Paterson also made reference in his speech to the economic woes being faced in the United States, calling them a "crisis", and promised to "adjust the budget accordingly." Since 1984, New York State has only passed a budget on time once, in 2005, leading Paterson to call for an "end to the dysfunction in Albany" in his speech, echoing a 56-page study from the nonpartisan New York University School of Law's Brennan Center for Justice, which referred to the legislature as "the least deliberative and most dysfunctional in the nation".
Paterson quickly signed five pieces of legislation on his first day in office: to add the New York State Department of Labor to the New York City Transit Track Safety Task Force; to eliminate a law that discouraged employers from holding blood drives; to change the way in which members are appointed to a state health and research board; to restore eligibility caps to certain senior employment programs; and to grant tax exemptions to several local development corporations in New York State.
He went on to ask for letters of resignation from all of his top staff members and state-agency commissioners. This typical action does not mean the hold overs from the Spitzer administration will be replaced, and Paterson said that "having the letters gives him the flexibility to make changes if he decides to".
Paterson's budget provided property tax relief by delivering aid to municipalities, and included restoration of hundreds of millions in property tax rebates for middle-class homeowners and $1 billion for upstate economic development. The spending included a record $1.8 billion aid increase to local school districts, and $2.5 billion in aid for construction projects at state and city public colleges. Governor Paterson decided to fully fund a landmark proposal authored by State Assemblyman Greg Ball, creating a tuition remission program for military veterans, offering them free tuition at both SUNY and CUNY institutions.
Although the legislature was unable to come to a decision on a separate bill to enact congestion pricing in New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg called the budget "good news for our city." Even though the budget enacted was the first in a decade that included less spending than the proposal, and Paterson promised to slash next year's state budget by 5 to 10 percent, because the spending plan he inherited was "too big and too bloated. The accidental nature of Paterson's ascension may have hampered his involvement in this year's process to some degree, but he told the New York Times that "I think we passed a sound budget, but I don’t think that we left ourselves enough room.
In April 2008, Governor Paterson asked the heads of all state agencies to cut their budgets by 3.35% and threatened a hiring freeze; the governor also asked legislative leaders to follow suit.
On June 3, 2008, a lawsuit was filed by the Alliance Defense Fund challenging the governor's directive.
On September 2, 2008, Justice Lucy A. Billings, of the State Supreme Court in the Bronx, NY, issued a decision that Governor Paterson acted within his powers when he required state agencies to recognize same-sex marriages from outside New York State. In her dismissal of the Alliance Defense Fund suit, Justice Billings found that the governor's order was consistent with state laws on the recognition of marriages from outside the state. An appeal is planned.