Governor: Odd History, Odd Job
As the old year becomes the new one, it is time to step
aside and look at what has taken place in government.
The principal news, of course, is the governor's fall from
grace. We do not know when a public official's popularity
has ever declined by 50 percent in his first year in office.
What is unusual about the Spitzer coverage in the press, is
that scarcely a word has been written in defense of his conduct
during his first year. Writers do express different levels
of hope for next year. We are on the optimistic side, predicting
that he will survive, but with great embarrassment, the proceedings
initiated by his nemesis, Senator Joseph L. Bruno. Every day
Bruno's long-heralded indictment is delayed gives the Senator
another day for his minions to chop away at the Governor.
Erased computer tapes mean obstruction of justice, if that
can be proven. Meanwhile, if Bruno is not to be indicted,
the Justice Department ought to say so.
Spitzer has, in recent months received advice on how to be
more popular with others. "If you want to get along, go along."
So he has refrained from invective, and proclaimed his friendship
with legislators and lobbyists alike, seeking their support
for whatever it is he still wants to do. Fortunately or not,
in the cold world of politics, very few, if any, people or
organizations confer gratuitous benefits on others without
the expectation of reward. And those generous souls who may
give money to politicians for idealistic motives like promoting
the public interest are often the first to become disillusioned
when the officeholder they have helped elect does not live
up to their expectations.
Spitzer's hand-picked Lieutenant Governor, a second-generation
politician generally regarded as a good fellow, has avoided
serious controversy during his first year. In fact, it is
difficult for any LG to initiate substantial projects, and
much of his/her work consists of avoiding embarrassment by
not trying to overshadow or second guess the governor. In
that effort he succeeded.
Under Gov. Hugh Carey, Mary Anne Krupsak served as LG, a position
she lost when she opposed Carey in the 1978 primary. Under
Gov. George Pataki, two women served as LGs, Betsy McCaughey
(Ross at the time) in his first term, and Judge Mary Donohue
in his next two. Ms. McCaughey, a health expert, has gone
on to do valuable work heading a Committee to reduce hospital
deaths caused by infections.
David Paterson is the first African American LG to be elected.
His father, a distinguished lawyer named Basil A. Paterson,
was defeated for LG when he was the running mate of Mr. Justice
Arthur Goldberg in 1970. Another black candidate, H. Carl
McCall, was defeated by Al Del Bello in the Democratic primary
for LG in 1982. DelBello, who was elected along with Mario
Cuomo, quit after 25 months.
The usual way for an LG to become governor is if the incumbent
dies, resigns or is impeached. The last LG elected governor
on his own was Mario Cuomo in 1982. Before that, Herbert H.
Lehman was elected governor in 1932 when Governor (F.D.) Roosevelt
sought higher office. More LGs advance at midyear than on
Four men in the 20th century became governors by filling vacancies.
In 1910, when Gov. Charles Evans Hughes was appointed Chief
Justice of the United States by President William Howard Taft,
Horace White of Syracuse filled the office for the balance
of the year. In 1913, when Gov. William J. Sulzer was impeached
by the state assembly and convicted by the state senate and
removed from office, ostensibly for failing to report his
campaign contributions accurately, and committing and suborning
perjury, but in fact for defying the orders of Tammany boss
Charles F. Murphy by trying to appoint commissioners on the
merits. Sulzer was succeeded by Martin H. Glynn of Albany.
Tammany had elected Sulzer in 1912, and experienced buyer's
remorse when the governor of New York State took his responsibilities
seriously, rather than take orders from political leaders
as to whom to appoint to state offices.
Only one governor of New York State died in office. He was
DeWitt Clinton, nephew of the first governor, George Clinton.
He was succeeded by lieutenant governor Nathaniel Pitcher,
who served the balance of that year.
The other two LGs assumed the governorship under more tranquil
circumstances. Gov. Herbert H. Lehman, who had held the office
for 10 years, 1933-42, resigned on Dec. 2 of his final year
to become director of foreign relief and rehabilitation operations
for the US Department of State. LG Charles A. Poletti filled
in the last 29 days of Lehman's term and became New York's
first (and only until Mario Cuomo) Italian-American governor.
Poletti's name now graces a large power plant in Astoria.
On December 17, 1973, Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller resigned
his post with a year and two weeks remaining in his fourth
four-year term. His purpose was to give LG Malcolm Wilson
a year or so on the job before he faced the voters in 1974.
Wilson, an able fellow, lost to Congressman Hugh Carey in
1974, which you may recall was the year of Watergate.
LG Paterson is unlikely to be elevated by either the impeachment
or the criminal conviction of the incumbent governor. President
Nixon thought he was buying insurance against impeachment
when he nominated Gerald Ford to be vice president, on the
theory that no one could see Ford as a President of the United
States. The best thing the new President said on attaining
the high office was: "I'm a Ford, not a Lincoln." At birth,
he was not even a Ford but a King. His name was changed to
Ford when Gerald R. Ford, Sr. married his birth-mother. A
similar chain of events occurred when President Clinton's
biological father was killed in an automobile accident and
his widowed mother married a Roger Clinton. In today's contest,
Barack Obama's parents separated when he was 2 years old.
Whether these family situations had any bearing on the ambitions
of the children is beyond our knowledge. But it certainly
didn't prevent them from choosing careers in public life.