Jews praise choice of incoming NY governor

Spitzer to leave office March 17; outgoing governor found to be involved in prostitution ring.

spitzer 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
spitzer 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Following New York Governor Eliot Spitzer's resignation Wednesday after getting caught in a prostitution ring scandal, Jewish community leaders were quick to praise his replacement, Lt. Governor David Paterson, who will be the state's first African American governor starting Monday. "He is the perfect person for this moment," said Diane Steinman, executive director of the New York chapter of the American Jewish Committee. "Considering the trauma to our state, I can't imagine a better person. He's a visionary who brings others on the road with him." Spitzer resigned in disgrace Wednesday after getting caught in a call-girl scandal that shattered his corruption-fighting, straight-arrow image, saying: "I cannot allow my private failings to disrupt the people's work." Spitzer made the announcement without having finalized a plea deal with federal prosecutors, though a law enforcement source familiar with the investigation said he was believed to still be negotiating one. "Over the course of my public life, I've insisted, I think correctly, that people regardless of their position or power take responsibility for their conduct. I can and will ask no less of myself," Spitzer said at a Manhattan news conference with his wife, Silda, at his side. He left without answering questions. Paterson will be the state's first legally blind governor and its first disabled governor since Franklin D. Roosevelt. Paterson issued a statement in which he said he was saddened, but would move forward. "It is now time for Albany to get back to work as the people of this state expect from us," he said. Paterson recently traveled to Israel for the first time with Project Interchange, an American Jewish Committee initiative that brings American leaders from around the country to Israel to experience the country firsthand. The theme of the recent trip was energy, and leaders were taught about Israeli initiatives using alternative energy. "When I was 13 years old, during the Six-Day War, I heard about all these places in Israel and I expected to go there a whole lot sooner than I was able to," Patterson said in an interview with AJC following the trip. Being in Israel, Patterson said he was able for the first time to connect the Holocaust to the creation of the state. "I did not connect World War II to the birth of the state as much as I did when I was in Israel," said Patterson. "I realized this was the way that Jews gathered from around the world under a banner of a new state knowing that Jews around the world will be assisted if there is ever any kind of pogrom or inevitable Holocaust attempt as there was at that particular time." Jewish leaders from across the community spoke of Patterson's commitment to social justice issues and his commitment to working with Jews. "He will introduce humanity, understanding, and a collegial quality to the Executive and Legislative branches," said New York Assemblyman Dov Hikind. "The essence of David Paterson is that he is an absolute mensch." Hikind said he has known Patterson for almost 20 years, and the two have worked together to bridge Jewish-black relations in the city. Recently, Patterson joined the Black-Jewish Alliance inaugurated by Hikind two months ago. Rabbi Marc Schneier president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, said he has worked with Patterson on strengthening Jewish-black relations for the last 20 years. ""Time and again, he has expressed his unequivocal support for the State of Israel and has stood with the Jewish community on myriad issues," said Schneier. "The portrait of his life and his dedication to his family, friends and to the State of New York, is a beautiful and inspiring sight to behold." Barely known outside of his Harlem political base, Paterson, 53, has been in New York government since his election to the state Senate in 1985. He led the Democratic caucus in the Senate before running with Spitzer as his No. 2. Though legally blind, Paterson has enough sight in his right eye to walk unaided, recognize people at conversational distance and even read if text is placed close to his face. While Spitzer is renowned for his abrasive style, Paterson has built a reputation as a conciliator. At a morning news conference, Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, Spitzer's chief rival, said he was moving on with the business of the state. Lawmakers were set to vote on budget bills Wednesday afternoon. "We are going to partner with the lieutenant governor when he becomes governor," said Bruno. "David has always been very open with me, very forthright ... I look forward to a positive, productive relationship." Bruno, though the next highest-ranking official, does not become lieutenant governor upon Paterson's ascension to governor. The lieutenant governor's office would remain vacant until the next general election in 2010 under state law. However, whenever Paterson is out of state or if he were to become incapacitated, Bruno would be acting governor.