By Ivan Pereira
David Paterson’s future as governor is on thin ice following reports that President Barack Obama and some influential Democrats are pressuring him not to run next year, but southeast Queens constituents and other leaders are asking his critics to cut Paterson some slack.
The New York Times reported that the president indirectly told Paterson to quit his bid for Albany’s top seat, but the beleaguered governor has insisted publicly since the story broke that he will run. U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) told Paterson Friday he should not run because his win would not be guaranteed, according to the Times.
“My plans have not changed,” the governor told reporters during the African-American Day Parade in Harlem Sunday.
His fellow Democratic leaders met with the Rev. Al Sharpton Monday to discuss the governor’s predicament following the leak of the conversations between the White House and the governor, according to Meeks, who was at the meeting.
In a conference call Wednesday morning, the congressman confirmed that he did meet with Paterson on Friday in a private “social meeting” and talked about concerns that the White House concerning the state’s politics. Meeks refused to elaborate about the concerns but insisted that Obama is not pushing Paterson to stop his bid for another term.
“They never told me to tell him not to run,” the congressman said.
Paterson, who was thrust into office in March 2008 following former Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s resignation, has had low approval ratings in recent months and had to deal with the state Senate’s political stalemate that derailed the state Legislature’s agenda this summer. It is feared his lack of popularity could lose the Democrats some seats in the state next year.
He also has been criticized by pundits and voters for picking U.S. Rep. Kristen Gillibrand to replace Hillary Clinton in the U.S. Senate and for comments claiming that his low approval ratings reflected racial bias.
Despite reservations about Paterson’s performance, some Queens Democrats said it was wrong for Obama to inject himself into the state’s political matters.
Adoja Gzifa, chairwoman of Community Board 12 in southeast Queens, said the reported ultimatum by the president was premature and hampered the normal democratic process.
“No one has the right to tell someone not to run just because they might lose. It’s up to the people of the state to decide whether or not he is supposed to be our governor or not,” she said.
State Assemblyman William Scarborough (D-St. Albans) echoed Gzifa’s sentiments but said Paterson needed to step up in order to counter the negative press that led to the call for him not to run next year. The governor has confronted the toughest economic times in the state since the Great Depression, according to the assemblyman, and he has had to make hard decisions in addition to grappling with the chaos in the Senate.
“People understand it on one level, but when you’re hit with all of the things, somebody is going to be the object of people’s concerns,” he said. “He has to tell them what he is doing and why. They’ll give him credit for being honest.”
There was worry in some quarters that Obama’s withdrawal of support for Paterson, who still has 15 months left in office, would make the governor a lame duck and undercut his efforts to bring order to the dysfunctional state Legislature.
The meeting with Sharpton took place just hours after Obama and Paterson met upstate at Albany International Airport and later at a news conference at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy. Although Obama called the governor a “wonderful man” at the news conference, he had more praise for the state attorney general, Andrew Cuomo, who is mulling a run against Paterson in next year’s Democratic primary.
“Andrew’s doing great work, enforcing the laws that need to be enforced,” the president said.
Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.