When Eliot Spitzer won the governship in 2006, David Paterson, then Lieutenant Governor, never expected to wind up as the state’s chief executive for the better part of Spitzer’s term. Felled by a sex scandal in early 2008, Spitzer had to give way to Paterson, and since then, Paterson’s approval ratings have plummeted. Late last week, The Times, in a well-reported piece, accused him of being aloof, disinterested and simply bad at his job. It was, in my eyes, a worse indictment of his ability to govern than any uncovered scandal could have been.
Yet, Paterson will truck on. He announced this weekend that, despite rumors of a primary challenge from fellow Democrat Andrew Cuomo, Paterson will take his 26-percent approval rating on the road from Niagra to New York and Nassau in an effort to win the governorship in his own right. In his announcement speech on Saturday, he appealed to the MTA’s political and economic woes as a sign of the need for his leadership.
Claiming, in a positive light, that he has “done more in my two years of governor than most governors have done in two terms,” Paterson jumped into the fray. “So,” he said, “if you want a candidate that’s always telling the special interest what they want to hear but has never told the people of New York what they’re going to do about the problems of our time, balancing the budget, balancing the M.T.A. budget, rebuilding Ground Zero, stopping the violence among teenagers, then, don’t pick me as governor.”
Explicit in that statement is the claim that Paterson has told us what he plans to do about the problems of balancing the MTA budget. Implicit in that statement is the claim that Paterson is on the side of the MTA and will help balance the budget. As far as I can tell, neither of those statements are true.
So what, then, has David Paterson done for the MTA since taking over for Eliot Spitzer on March 17, 2008? He started his tenure off on the right foot when he announced support for congestion pricing. That, unfortunately, went nowhere. Paterson didn’t offer up much leadership on congestion pricing, and although congestion pricing remains one of the better solutions to the MTA’s woes, Paterson has not raised the issue since he endorsed the Ravitch Plan in early December 2008.
Since then, Paterson hasn’t offered up much of anything for the MTA. He dithered as the State Senate bickered and provided little leadership as the MTA faced its Doomsday last spring. His great compromise was one that simply promised schools a tax rebate. More problematic though are his recent positions and moves that have actively eliminated funding for MTA programs. He rescinded $140 million in state appropriations and has cut state Student MetroCard contributions from $45 million annually to just $6 million. His representative to the state’s capital review board torpedoed the MTA’s latest five-year plan.
Paterson is a born and bred New Yorker. He grew up in Brooklyn, went to Columbia and studied law at Hofstra before working in Queens and representing the Borough of Kings in the State Senate. He knows how valuable the MTA is to the city, the metropolitan area and the state at large. Yet, his record on the MTA is one that should not inspire the belief that he can, as he claims, balance the MTA budget.
As he gears up his run for governor, David Paterson is asking us to trust him on issues of transit while his record speaks to two years of last chances and lower state contributions. With Election Day nearly eight months away, Paterson can change his record on the MTA with one strike of the pen and some good old politicking. Right now, though, as the MTA moves into the political forefront of what promises to become a tedious race for the governship, Paterson has a long way to go.