State’s top court upholds Ravitch as lieutenant guv

By Jeremy Walsh

Despite Republican challenges that kept the appointment in court for months, Gov. David Paterson’s appointment of former MTA Chairman Richard Ravitch as lieutenant governor was validated by the state Court of Appeals Tuesday.

The court voted 4-3 to reject the Republicans’ request for an injunction against the appointment, which came July 8 as Paterson was trying to break a crippling stalemate in the state Senate after two Democrats defected to the GOP and neither side would recognize the other. The ruling overturned the decisions of two lower courts.

It was a surprising victory for Paterson, who is fighting low approval ratings as he prepares to run for election next year amid reports that the White House asked him to withdraw from the race.

“Today’s decision … is a victory for all New Yorkers,” he said in a statement Tuesday, noting he had asked Ravitch to help with the state’s economic recovery plan.

But the Court of Appeals did recognize Ravitch’s appointment was still problematic.

“It does create the possibility that an unelected individual will, for a time, occupy the State’s highest office,” Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman wrote in his decision. “Rules of succession are, however, inevitably imperfect and, at some stage of the devolution they direct, invariably compromise elective principles.”

State Democrats nonetheless rejoiced at the news.

“I am pleased with today’s Court of Appeals decision and am hopeful it will prevent a recurrence of the gridlock that paralyzed state government this past summer,” said state Assemblyman Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria). “Most importantly, there is now a clear line of succession to the state’s highest office should the governor no longer be able to serve.”

“The majority’s opinion is clear, unambiguous — and absolutely right,” said Senate Conference Leader John Samson (D-Brooklyn). “Lt. Gov. Ravitch is a phenomenal public servant who brings a wealth of experience to the team. As New York faces an unprecedented fiscal crisis, we need all hands on deck.”

Senate Minority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) noted that state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo indicated the appointment was unconstitutional and said the law needed to be changed.

“I strongly disagree with the court’s ruling today and every New Yorker should be troubled by it,” he said. “Five lower court judges previously ruled against the governor’s appointment, as did three on the Court of Appeals.”

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jewalsh@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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