Democratic gubernatorial candidate Eliot Spitzer’s selection of Harlem state Sen. David Paterson to be his running mate (the first such Jewish-black Democratic ticket since Paterson’s father, Basil, ran for lieutenant governor on a ticket headed by Arthur Goldberg 36 years ago) was seen by Jewish leaders as a move that might help the state’s neediest.
Ron Soloway, UJA-Federation of New Yorkís managing director of government relations, said Paterson, the state Senate minority leader who was first elected to the Senate in 1985, "has been a supporter of the UJA-Federation human-service network, and I would expect that if he was elected lieutenant governor he would continue his support for helping the poor and vulnerable."
Michael Miller, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, called Paterson, 51, "highly intelligent and an accomplished leader who has expressed sensitivity to matters about which our community is concerned."
And Diane Steinman, executive director of the New York chapter of the American Jewish Committee, said Paterson has "close, intimate ties" to the Jewish community and that he "really understands and embraces that relationship."
But one influential black leader, Michael Meyers, president of the New York City Civil Rights Coalition, questioned Paterson’s credentials.
"He’s a politician, but what has he accomplished?" he asked. "What has he done? I am not as starry-eyed as my Jewish brethren and sisters. … I have not seen him take on the black extremists. Those who are Jewish are fooling themselves if they think David Paterson is a voice of reason and racial reconciliation."
Although an aide to Spitzer was quoted as saying that Paterson was chosen because of his "solid government-reform credentials," Stanley Klein, a political science professor at the C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University, said the choice would also help him nail down the nomination.
"It will absolutely lock in New York City Democrats to Eliot Spitzer," he said. "Spitzer is concerned about the challenge from [Nassau County Executive Thomas] Suozzi, and he has to beat the New York City Democrats. He is concerned about the Suozzi challenge and he has to beat him in the primary before he can run for governor. So the Paterson choice is meant to solidify the Democratic base in New York City in a primary fight."
Klein said he had expected Spitzer, a city Democrat, to tap Long Island Assemblyman Thomas DiNapoli instead of Paterson to achieve an urban-suburban balance. Spitzer doesn’t get that balance with Paterson, even though Paterson grew up on Long Island and earned his law degree at Hofstra University.
But when all is said and done, the No. 2 man on the ticket does not bring in votes, according to Democratic political consultant Hank Sheinkopf.
"[Paterson] is a very nice man who is receptive to people of every group and has had good relations with the Jewish community going back to the early part of his career," Sheinkopf said. "But people don’t elect a governor based on his lieutenant governor."
"Does it help him with the suburban vote?" Sheinkopf asked. "It’s hard to gauge the immediate impact. Political insiders will be very happy with it because he’s a known quantity. But how it plays out has yet to be seen."
Whether Paterson actually gets to be Spitzer’s running mate was still up in the air at midweek because two key Democratic black politicians were still supporting Leecia Eve in her bid for the No. 2 spot. U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel (Harlem) and former New York City Mayor David Dinkins said they had not altered their support for Eve, a former counsel to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, and she had not withdrawn her candidacy. If she remains in the race, she could face Paterson in a primary.
Paterson, who did not return a phone call to his Albany office, was working on plans to lead a Democratic State Senate delegation to Israel later this year, according to Miller of the JCRC. He last visited Israel with the JCRC in 1986.