GOVERNOR DAVID PATERSON: “BLACK, BLIND AND IN CHARGE”

Encore: November 05, 2021

He was NY’s first Black, as well as blind governor. He dedicated most of his adult life to public service as a strong advocate for quality public education, greater opportunities for minority and women-owned businesses and enhanced access to services for the disabled. But his time in office was a time of multiple crises and struggles- some brought on by his inner circle while some were self-inflicted. Tonight, David Paterson shares his memoirs as well as the trials and tribulations of being “Black, Blind, & In Charge: A Story of Visionary Leadership and Overcoming Adversity.”

For more information on “Black, Blind, & In Charge: A Story of Visionary Leadership and Overcoming Adversity,” click here.

Aired on October 21, 2020.

TRANSCRIPT

> GOOD EVENING AND WELCOME TO 'METROFOCUS.'

I'M JENNA FLANAGAN.

WHEN MOST POLITICIANS ACCEPT A VICE OR LIEUTENANT POSITION IN GOVERNMENT, IT'S USUALLY WITH THE UNDERSTANDING THAT THEY'LL BE SERVING IN A SUPPORTIVE ROLE TO THE EXECUTIVE IN CHIEF.

HOWEVER, THERE ARE THOSE OCCASIONS WHEN SECOND IN COMMAND SUDDENLY BECOMES FIRST.

FORMER NEW YORK GOVERNOR DAVID PATTERSON KNOWS ALL TOO WELL ABOUT THAT.

ON MARCH 10th OF 2008 THE THEN LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR RECEIVED A PHONE CALL THAT WOULD CHANGE HIS LIFE.

AND BEFORE HE KNEW IT HE HAD GONE FROM MANHATTAN STATE SENATOR TO LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR TO GOVERNOR IN JUST OVER TWO YEARS.

HE WAS ALSO THE FIRST AFRICAN-AMERICAN AND THE FIRST BLIND PERSON TO EVER HOLD THE POSITION OF GOVERNOR IN THE EMPIRE STATE.

IT'S A DIZZYING CHANGE FOR ANYBODY, AND GOVERNOR PATTERSON RECOUNTS THOSE EXPERIENCES AND MORE IN HIS NEW MEMOIR, 'BLACK, BLIND, AND IN CHARGE.'

AND I'D LIKE TO WELCOME HIM TO 'METROFOCUS.'

GOVERNOR PATTERSON, IT IS A GREAT PLEASURE TO HAVE YOU ON THE SHOW.

THANK YOU, JENNA, IT'S GREAT TO BE ON THE SHOW.

SO FIRST, LET'S GO BACK TO THAT MOMENT WHEN YOU GOT THAT FIRST PHONE CALL ABOUT THE SCANDAL THAT GOVERNOR SPITZER HAD FOUND HIMSELF IN.

WHAT WAS YOUR REACTION?

I'D SAY MILD SHOCK.

OBVIOUSLY THE GOVERNOR'S SECRETARY AND THE GOVERNOR AND MANY PEOPLE KNEW THAT THIS PROBLEM EXISTED THREE DAYS BEFORE AND THEY DECIDE TO TELL ME ABOUT AN HOUR AND TEN MINUTES BEFORE THE GOVERNOR'S GOING TO RESIGN AT 2:15 THAT AFTERNOON.

SO I WAS SITTING IN MY OFFICE WHEN HE CALLED ME, AND HE WAS WHISPERING BECAUSE HE WAS IN THE GOVERNOR'S BATHROOM BECAUSE THE GOVERNOR FORBADE ANYONE TO SPEAK TO ME ABOUT IT, HE SAID HE WOULD DO IT HIMSELF.

BUT THE SECRETARY'S NOW REALIZING IT'S SO CLOSE TO THE TIME I'M GOING TO BECOME GOVERNOR, WHEN HE REMINDED THE GOVERNOR OF THAT HE SAID OH, JUST GIVE HIM SOMETHING TO READ.

HE SAID GOVERNOR, HE DOESN'T READ, HE MEMORIZES, AND I DON'T THINK HE HAS TIME TO MEMORIZE WHATEVER THIS STATEMENT IS.

AND REMEMBER, IN AN HOUR HE'LL BE THE GOVERNOR AND THE FIRST THING HE'S GOING TO ASK ALL OF US IS WHY DID YOU PUT ME IN THAT POSITION?

SO YOU KNOW, I WAS A LITTLE SHOCKED AND I TOLD MY SECRETARY THAT I WAS GOING TO LEAVE THE BUILDING SO I WOULDN'T BE PART OF ANY MEDIA HUNT OVER ME.

AND I OPENED THE DOOR TO LEAVE MY OFFICE AND ABOUT 15 CAMERAS WENT OFF IN MY FACE.

AND I CLOSED THE DOOR AND I PUT MY BACK TO THE DOOR AND I SAID TO MY SECRETARY, I THINK MY LIFE JUST CHANGED.

AS SERIOUS AS THAT MOMENT REALLY WAS, SO MANY OF THE STORIES IN THIS BOOK ALMOST READ LIKE THEY COULD BE IN A -- I HATE TO SAY IT BUT ALMOST A SATIRICAL STORY ABOUT POLITICS.

AND I SAY THAT BECAUSE ONCE YOU GOT THAT PHONE CALL YOU TOOK IT UPON YOURSELF TO ACTUALLY LET SOME OTHER KEY PLAYERS IN ALBANY KNOW AND ACTUALLY THROUGHOUT NEW YORK POLITICS.

AND THE FIRST PERSON WHO CALLED YOU BACK, THAT WAS AN AWKWARD PHONE CALL.

MY FATHER, BASEL PATTERSON WHO HAD BEEN THE FIRST AFRICAN-AMERICAN VICE CHAIR OF THE DEMOCRATIC COMMITTEE AND SECRETARY TO GOVERNOR KERRY AND HAD ALWAYS INCREDIBLE WISDOM IN SITUATIONS LIKE THAT TOLD ME YOU'D BETTER TELL THE OTHER LEADERS OF THE STATE THE GOVERNOR HASN'T EVEN SPOKEN TO YOU AND IN AN HOUR THEY'RE ALL GOING TO ASK YOU WHY YOU DIDN'T TELL THEM WHAT WAS GOING ON.

SENATOR CLINTON WAS STILL IN A HOT PRIMARY AGAINST SENATOR OBAMA, WHO WOULD EVENTUALLY BECOME THE PRESIDENT.

AND SHE'S THE FIRST ONE TO CALL BACK, WHICH KIND OF SHOCKED ME.

SHE SAID IS EVERYTHING ALL RIGHT?

I GOT AN OMINOUS FEELING WHEN I GOT THIS MESSAGE FROM YOU.

AND I SAID, SENATOR, LISTEN, IN ABOUT A HALF HOUR I'M GOING TO BE SWORN IN AS GOVERNOR.

AND SHE SAID, OH, MY GOD, WHAT'S HAPPENED?

I SAID NO, SENATOR, THE GOVERNOR IS FINE BUT HE'S GOING TO RESIGN IN ABOUT HALF AN HOUR.

AND SHE SAID, WELL, WHY IS HE GOING TO RESIGN, DAVID?

AND I JUST LOOKED UP AT THE CEILING AND THOUGHT, HOW DO YOU EXPLAIN ANOTHER SEX SCANDAL TO HILLARY CLINTON?

AGAIN, IT'S JUST -- IT'S STORY AFTER STORY LIKE THIS.

I THINK MOST PEOPLE CAN UNDERSTAND THE SURPRISE OF, LET'S SAY, HAVING AN UNEXPECTED PROJECT FALL INTO YOUR LAP BUT CERTAINLY NOT THE GOVERNORSHIP OF NEW YORK.

AND I WAS WONDERING DID YOU GET A MOMENT TO EVEN TRY TO PROCESS ALL OF THIS ONCE YOU GOT THOSE PHONE CALLS?

YOU KNOW WHAT WAS SO INTERESTING, JENNA, IS WHEN I BECAME THE MINORITY LEADER MY STAFF WENT FROM 7 TO 150 IN A MATTER OF DAYS AND WITHIN TWO WEEKS I REALIZED THAT I DIDN'T KNOW HOW TO MANAGE 150 PEOPLE.

AND I WENT TO A FRIEND OF MINE WHO RAN ONE OF THOSE STRATEGIC PLANNING COMPANIES AND THEY HAD A SESSION WITH ME TO ADVISE ME ON HOW YOU MANAGE A STAFF THAT'S, YOU KNOW, NOT JUST 10 OR 15 PEOPLE.

I WOULD HAVE DONE THE SAME THING WHEN I WAS GOVERNOR, BUT I FORGOT ABOUT WHAT HAPPENED WHEN I WAS MINORITY LEADER BECAUSE IT WAS JUST CRISIS AFTER CRISIS.

WE HAD TO PASS THE STATE BUDGET.

13 DAYS AFTER I TAKE OFFICE.

AND WE DID.

WE HAD TO SETTLE THE ISSUE OF CONGESTION PRICING BY APRIL 9th, AND WE DID THAT.

AND IT WAS JUST ONE THING AFTER THE OTHER.

AND I REALLY WISH I HAD STOPPED, REGROUPED, REPOSITIONED THE STAFF AND BROUGHT IN PEOPLE WHO I THINK WOULD HAVE BETTER FIT WHAT THE GOALS WERE THAT I WANTED TO ACCOMPLISH.

AND WE'RE GOING TO GET INTO SOME OF THE PEOPLE THAT YOU WERE AT LEAST ATTEMPTING TO WORK WITH.

BUT AGAIN, I JUST WANT TO GO BACK TO THE POINT THAT THIS BOOK ALMOST -- IT GIVES THE READER LIKE ME WHIPLASH.

I CAN'T IMAGINE WHAT IT WAS LIKE TO ACTUALLY LIVE THROUGH ALL THESE LIKE ISSUE AFTER ISSUE AFTER CRISIS AFTER CRISIS.

BUT I DO WANT TO DRAW ON YOUR 20 YEARS OF EXPERIENCE AS A STATE SENATOR AND, AS YOU SAID, ALSO THE MINORITY LEADER IN ALBANY AND SAY THAT THAT GAVE YOU A UNIQUE UNDERSTANDING OF HOW ALBANY WORKS OR SOME MIGHT SAY DOESN'T WORK.

SO I'M WONDERING WAS THERE ANYTHING IN PARTICULAR THAT STOOD OUT TO YOU ONCE YOU BECAME GOVERNOR THAT MADE YOU GO, WAIT, WHAT?

OH, ABSOLUTELY.

WITHIN THREE DAYS OF THE TIME I BECAME GOVERNOR THE BUDGET DIRECTOR COMES IN TO TELL ME THAT GOVERNOR SPITZER HAD A BUDGET THAT WE WERE ABOUT TO PASS THAT HAD A 5.3% INCREASE IN SPENDING WHILE ALL OF THE ECONOMIC CONDITIONS, THE HOUSING MARKET WAS FALLING, THE STOCK MARKET WAS NOT FALLING YET BUT IT CERTAINLY WAS TURBULENT AND OF COURSE EVENTUALLY LATER THAT YEAR WE HAD THE BEGINNING OF THE FISCAL CRISIS IN 2008.

APPARENTLY GOVERNOR SPITZER'S RELATIONSHIP WITH THE LEGISLATURE WAS SO POOR THAT HE BASICALLY HAD TO GIVE THEM A BUDGET THAT THEY COULD PASS BECAUSE THEY HAD HAD ABOUT ENOUGH OF HIM AT THAT POINT.

IN FACT, WHEN HE TRIED TO GET THE TWO LEADERS OF THE LEGISLATURE TO BLOCK AN IMPEACHMENT PROCEEDING AGAINST HIM THEY TOLD HIM YOU CAN HAVE A WEEK.

AND THEY BASICALLY TOLD HIM YOU DON'T HAVE A VOTE IN THE HOUSE.

SO I WAS REALLY SURPRISED TO HEAR THIS BECAUSE THIS WAS NOT KNOWN, THIS WAS JUST SOMETHING THAT THE GOVERNOR WAS DOING.

THE LEADERS WEREN'T GOING TO PUBLICIZE IT BECAUSE THEY WERE GOING TO BENEFIT FROM THE SPENDING THAT COULD OCCUR.

SO I WAS IMMEDIATELY PUT IN A SITUATION WHERE I WAS REVERSING WHAT THE GOVERNOR HAD PROMISED THE LEADERS AND THE LEGISLATORS, BUT THE REASON I WAS DOING IT IS THAT WE HAD A BUDGET DEFICIT WHICH STARTED OUT AT 5 BILLION WHICH I ESTIMATED THE DAY I CAME INTO OFFICE AT 10 BILLION, WOUND UP BEING $21.3 BILLION, AND WE HAD TO CLOSE THAT GAP OR THE STATE WOULD GO INTO DEFAULT.

SO YEAH, THERE WERE SOME SURPRISES.

WOW.

SO OF COURSE THERE IS NO GENUINE STORY, I WOULD SAY, ABOUT ALBANY UNLESS IT INVOLVES A GOOD FEUD OR TWO.

AND SO WITH THAT I DO WANT TO CIRCLE BACK TO THE POINT YOU WERE MAKING A MOMENT AGO ABOUT PEOPLE WHO YOU AT LEAST WERE TRYING TO WORK WITH.

YOU HAD A REALLY CONTENTIOUS RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR GRAVICH.NT GOVERNOR, RICHARD -

WELL, IT WASN'T AS MUCH THAT IT WAS CONTENTIOUS AS WE CLOSED THE BUDGET, THE DEFICIT OF $21.3 BILLION IN 2009 AND 8, THEN WE CLOSED ANOTHER DEFICIT OF 10.2 BILLION IN 2009.

NOW WE'RE COMING TO THE LAST $10.2 BILLION BUDGET IN 2010 AND WE ESTIMATE THERE'S GOING TO BE 8 TO 10 BILLION DOLLARS MORE OF DEFICIT THAT THE NEW GOVERNOR WHO WE WERE HOPING WOULD BE ANDREW CUOMO COULD FINISH THAT OFF IN 2011 AND THEN HE WOULD BE ABLE TO MANAGE WITHOUT ANY MORE OF A FISCAL CRISIS.

AND THAT'S WHAT HAPPENED.

BUT MEANWHILE, MR. RAVICH GOES AND OFFERS THIS IDEA WHICH HE CALLED THE RAVITCH PLAN OF $6 BILLION, WHICH IS HOW WE GOT IN TROUBLE IN THE FIRST PLACE.

GOVERNOR PATAKI CAME IN WITH THE STATE IN DEBT AT $24 BILLION AND HE DROVE IT UP OVER $50 BILLION BY BORROWING.

SO NOW RAVITCH WANTS TO PUT ANOTHER $6 BILLION ON TOP OF THAT AND THEN PAY IT BACK OVER A PERIOD OF TIME WHEN WE DON'T EVEN KNOW IF THE FINANCIAL CRISIS IS GOING TO END ANYTIME SOON.

AND HE GOT ANGRY AND WROTE ALL THESE ARTICLES AFTER HE GOT OUT OF OFFICE SAYING WE DIDN'T LISTEN TO HIM.

WE DID LISTEN TO HIM BUT WE DIDN'T AGREE WITH HIM.

BUT WHEN WE DIDN'T AGREE WITH HIM HE FOR SOME REASON TOLD ANOTHER STAFF MEMBER HE DIDN'T WORK FOR ME, HE WORKED WITH ME.

SO HE DIDN'T EVEN UNDERSTAND HIS ROLE IN THE BEGINNING -- IN THE FIRST PLACE.

OKAY.

ALL RIGHT.

WELL, PUTTING A PIN IN THAT STORY, WHAT I ALSO THOUGHT WAS REALLY INTERESTING WAS THAT IN THE PROCESS OF YOU DEALING WITH OR WORKING WITH LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR RAVITCH AT THE TIME YOU GOT SOME WARNINGS OR AT LEAST SOME ADVICE FROM A PARTICULAR NEW YORK CITY DEVELOPER WHO THE REST OF THE COUNTRY HAS GOTTEN TO KNOW VERY, VERY WELL.

A MAN NAMED DONALD TRUMP WAS THE ONLY PERSON WHO OBJECTED TO MY APPOINTING MR. RAVITCH.

I WASN'T LOOKING FOR A POLITICAL FIGURE.

AND I KNEW THERE WOULD BE A PRETTY STRONG COURT CASE TO TRY TO BLOCK ME FROM APPOINTING A LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR.

SO WHEN YOU GET A LETTER FROM DONALD TRUMP, JENNA, REMEMBER THIS AND ALL OF THE VIEWERS SHOULD LISTEN.

WHEN YOU GET A LETTER FROM NOW PRESIDENT TRUMP, YOU DON'T GET IT IN YOUR MAILBOX.

HE READS IT ON TV.

THAT'S HOW YOU FIND OUT ABOUT THE LETTER.

OH.

HE SAID GOVERNOR, YOU'VE BEEN IN OFFICE FOR A YEAR AND A HALF, YOU'VE BEEN DOING SUCH A GREAT JOB, WHY WOULD YOU HIRE THIS GUY?

HE'S NOT QUALIFIED, HE WAS TERRIBLE WHEN HE WORKED WITH THE MTA AND THIS WHOLE LITANY JUST LIKE THE ONES HE SAYS NOW WHEN HE DOESN'T LIKE PEOPLE.

BUT I HAD TO ASK THE LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR TO COME IN AND EXPLAIN THIS TO ME.

AND I SAID, IT'S NOT CHANGING ANYTHING I'M GOING TO DO BUT I JUST WANT TO KNOW.

AND HE INFORMED ME THAT WHEN THE HOTEL AT 42nd STREET AND LEXINGTON AVENUE, THE HYATT, WAS BEING BUILT THAT IT ADJOINED ONE OF THE TRUMP BUILDINGS AND DONALD TRUMP CALLED RAVITCH AND ASKED THAT THE MTA BUILD A SIDE ENTRANCE FOR THEIR EMPLOYEES.

RAVITCH COMPLIED AND SAID HE WOULD SEND HIM ALL THE INFORMATION AND SEND HIM THE BILL FOR THE CONSTRUCTION.

AND TRUMP SAID I DO SO MUCH FOR THE CITY, YOU ALL SHOULD DO THIS FOR ME FOR FREE.

WELL, THIS WOULD ACTUALLY BE A CRIME TO DO THIS.

AND OBVIOUSLY RAVITCH WASN'T GOING TO DO IT.

BUT 31 YEARS LATER WHEN RAVITCH BECOMES LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR MR.

TRUMP HASN'T FORGOTTEN IT AND HE TELLS -- YOU KNOW, HE TELLS ME THIS.

I IGNORE HIM.

BUT SIX MONTHS LATER RAVITCH IS COMING OUT OF A BUILDING AND THE MEDIA ASKS HIM WHAT DOES HE THINK ABOUT MY BUDGET?

HE SAYS THE BUDGET'S PRETTY GOOD BUT I DON'T THINK THE LEGISLATURE WILL PASS IT.

SO NOW YOU HAVE HEADLINE, LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR CONTRADICTS GOVERNOR AND IT'S ALL CONTROVERSIAL.

I'M SITTING IN MY OFFICE SHAKING MY HEAD.

AND I GET A CALL AND THEY SAID DONALD TRUMP'S ON THE LINE.

I NEVER MADE THE CONNECTION, JENNA.

OH, MY GOODNESS.

HE SAYS DAVID, THIS GUY'S A SOMETHING HOLE AND HE'S AN IDIOT, HE'S DISLOYAL AND UNTRUSTWORTHY, I WARNLD YOU ABOUT HIM, YOU SHOULD HAVE LISTENED TO ME.

AND I SAID DONALD, TODAY I'M HAVING A ROUGH DAY, I DON'T HAVE THE STRENGTH TO ARGUE WITH YOU, BUT THANKS SO MUCH FOR CALLING.

WE GOT OFF THE PHONE AND ABOUT 15 MINUTES LATER I HAD TWO DOORS THAT OPEN UP INTO MY OFFICE AS GOVERNOR.

THEY BOTH FLEW OPEN SIMULTANEOUSLY AND ABOUT SIX STAFF MEMBERS COME IN AND SAY WHY DID YOU TELL DONALD TRUMP AND THE ASSOCIATED PRESS THAT YOU WISH YOU DIDN'T TAKE RAVITCH IN THE FIRST PLACE?

I SAID I NEVER SAID THAT.

SO OF COURSE I CALLED DONALD BACK AND I SAID DONALD, YOU AND I BOTH KNOW I DIDN'T SAY THAT.

AND HE SAYS TO ME, BUT IT'S THE TRUTH.

IT'S THE TRUTH.

YOU KNOW IN YOUR HEART YOU WISH YOU DIDN'T TAKE THAT GUY.

LOOK ME IN THE EYE AND TELL ME THAT YOU REALLY WANTED TO TAKE THAT GUY NOW KNOWING WHO HE IS.

AND I SAID DONALD, I CAN'T LOOK YOU IN THE EYE.

WE'RE ON THE TELEPHONE.

AND SECOND, I'M GOING TO EXTEND YOU THE COURTESY YOU THAT NEVER EXTENDED TO ME.

I'M ISSUING A PRESS STATEMENT TELLING THE TRUTH, WHICH IS THAT I NEVER SAID THAT.

AND HE SAYS, OH, COME ON, DAVID, YOU DON'T WANT TO TAKE ME ON ON AN ISSUE LIKE THIS.

YOU'RE LOOKING GREAT OUT HERE.

PEOPLE HATE THIS GUY.

IT WAS VINTAGE TRUMP THAT WE'VE WATCHED AS PRESIDENT FOR THE LAST FOUR YEARS, BUT I GOT A GLIMPSE OF IT 12 YEARS BEFORE.

WELL, UNFORTUNATELY, WE'RE GOING TO LEAVE IT THERE.

ALL I CAN SAY, GOVERNOR PATTERSON, IS YOUR BOOK IS FILLED WITH STORIES LIKE THIS THAT SEEM LIKE THEY WOULD BE PRO FORMA ON THE SURFACE BUT JUST WOW.

I DON'T KNOW WHAT ELSE TO SAY BUT WOW.

SO THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR JOINING US.

AND MORE IMPORTANTLY, THANK YOU FOR THIS BOOK.

I THINK IT MAKES A LOT OF POLITICAL FIGURES FEEL MORE HUMAN.

JENNA, I TRIED TO WRITE IT THAT WAY.

PEOPLE WRITE 500 PAGES ABOUT HOW GREAT THEY WERE.

I TRIED TO ADDRESS MY OWN MISTAKES AND AT TIMES UNFORTUNATELY THE MISTAKES OF OTHERS.

WELL, AGAIN, THANK YOU FOR THIS BOOK BECAUSE IT IS REALLY GREAT.

SO THANK YOU FOR JOINING US.

AND THANK YOU FOR HAVING ME.

ABSOLUTELY.

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