5:11 pm Jan. 30, 2012
Late last week, former governor David Paterson spoke to 200 young lawyers, many of them recent law-school graduates, at the Hilton’s Gramercy Ballroom. It was the keynote address of a week-long convention of the New York State Bar Association, which drew 5,000 people from across the state.
“It was really quiet when I walked in the room, synonymous with a lot of lawyers that hadn’t been paid,” Paterson said, by way of an ice-breaker.
Paterson led with his efforts to reform the harshly punitive Rockefeller Drug Laws, saying his approach mimicked a former Texas governor’s.
“That’s how bad New York’s drug laws were,” Paterson said. "We had to actually learn a lesson from President Bush.”
The crowd laughed.
“I told him that years later, and he was quite impressed,” Paterson said.
But Paterson spoke mainly about his battles with the state legislature, including his attempts to grapple with the 2010 “amigos” coup in the State Senate, and with the political gamesmanship over that year’s budget. As a former state senator (he served in the Senate before becoming Eliot Spitzer’s lieutenant governor, before taking over for Spitzer as governor), he said initially he didn’t want to upset legislators, but that he eventually had a change of heart.
“I found that when I finally did take an action that I found it appealing,” he said.
He said that when, in dramatic fashion, he vetoed thousands of individual measures, he made a point of doing so manually.
“So to show them that I would take them seriously, I vetoed every single measure by hand,” he said. “And so they wouldn’t miss it, I put it on YouTube. It took eight-and-a-half hours. Now I nearly died doing it, but I knew if I lived, it would be the greatest thing I ever did in my life.”
Before he left, Paterson spoke about several pardons he made as governor, including some of people over 70 years old, that he said prevented unjust deportations.
“Last night, I heard former governor Mitt Romney and former speaker Newt Gingrich arguing about throwing grandmothers out of the country,” he said. “We’re throwing grandmothers out of the country right now under President Obama. It’s sad to say it, but it’s true.”
There were no questions from the audience after Paterson’s speech, and he soon left to record his radio show. Walking through the Hilton’s hallways, he posed for photos and spoke about redistricting.
He said the new maps released by the legislature last week were just the latest example of Republicans systematically creating population disparity between downstate and upstate districts in order to maintain control of the State Senate.
“But now they’ve really got a problem under the new rules,” Paterson said.
“And that’s why they added a seat and they are cramming and they’re trying to save the Republican majority,” he said. “Now as long as the legislature is drawing the maps, they’re always going to be political. I’m not blaming the Republicans because they’re no worse than the Democrats when the Democrats were in the majority. That’s why the election in 2010 was so critical and why the Republicans retaking the Senate was the only hope they ever had, because the Democrats in the Senate wouldn’t even have to cheat. If they just drew it by population they would have a huge [majority].”
He said the only way the redistricting process could possibly be depoliticized would be if a court drew the lines.
“I would never use the term apolitical, because everyone’s political,” Paterson said. “I found at times the most political and corrupt group of people that I knew were in the good-government groups, because they wanted attention. In this scenario, I’m hoping that that legislation is a draft and they could reconsider, because what they have right now is not even close to fair.”
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