Sunday, August 31, 2008

AP analysis of Gov. Paterson's place in national politics

Michael Gormley, the Albany, N.Y. Capitol Editor for The AP, gave the following analysis of Gov. David Paterson's performance on the national stage during the Democratic Convention and the implications of a nationally known blind politician:

Last week, America saw that New York Gov. David Paterson is blind. That image carried by TV from the Democratic National Convention wasn't news to his childhood friends in mainstream schools and in street basketball games, or to his competitors in law school and in the New York City Marathon, or to those who saw him thrust into the governor's job in March and then take on special interests many feel run New York state government.

To them, Paterson's disability just hasn't been much of an issue. Although the party's political strategy was obvious, it was a bit unusual for some New Yorkers to watch Paterson use part of his short speech in Denver to predict a new era for the disabled would be ushered in under a president Barack Obama.

Paterson said Obama would work with a Democratic Congress to revitalize the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act that he said was weakened by the U.S. Supreme Court and Republican Bush administration. He noted unemployment is 90 percent for deaf Americans and 71 percent for the blind.

"Let's give (Republicans) four more months and then elect Barack Obama," he shouted among the cheers. "Barack Obama will restore prosperity and will make the changes we need to write a new chapter in the story of the promise of America."

It was a rare and serious foray for Paterson into the topic of disabilities. He's not one to declare that he won't let blindness stop him, or that he refuses to use his disability as an excuse.

Paterson doesn't dip into those profile-in-courage cliches, as inspiring as they can be. He mostly deals with his disability by, seemingly, not dealing with it all. As a kid, for example, he refused to use a white cane, half-joking that in his neighborhood it would make his next stop the hospital as a crime victim.

It's not like you can ignore Paterson's disability.

But those who have worked with him or covered him for any part of his 20 years in Albany know that when you think of adjectives to describe him, "blind" doesn't come up for a while. He has not only kept up with the well-educated, well-connected and well-heeled power brokers in Albany, he leaves many of them in the dust.

So what he does attracts far more attention than what he can't do. He does it by memorizing long speeches filled with economics statistics and arcane legal precedents, such as his 3,400-worder to the National Press Club in July that touched on food stamp qualifications, subprime mortgage trends, and Wall Street revenues. He does it by filing away the fuzzy outline of people he partly sees through one eye and their voices so that he often greets people first, by name. And he does it by listening to an aide's call at 6 a.m. each day to run down the top newspaper stories, schedule details, and other data.

Paterson's blindness, until last week, was most often used as a way to nail a point with humor. In his 2006 campaign with Eliot Spitzer, Paterson running for lieutenant governor would often say that he would help Spitzer implement his view of New York, "because I sure don't have the vision."

And nervous consultants spiked this TV ad during the 2006 gubernatorial campaign: "I see a New York state with property taxes under control, school funding up and class sizes down, a New York where our kids have stopped moving out and begun moving back," he says sternly to the camera.

Then with a sly grin, he adds: "And if you say you can't see all that, well, you're blind."

After hiding, almost denying his disability for much of his life, Paterson realized that pretending he wasn't blind didn't help those who were.

"As I have grown, I want to be known that way," Paterson told The Buffalo News editorial board this summer. "It gives people still struggling a feeling of hope when they see someone like that."