Former Gov. David Paterson said Friday that Gov. Kathy Hochul ought to hold up the state budget past an April 1 deadline if she thinks that will secure changes to bail reform, despite legislative resistance.
“Whatever the governor thinks is the best way to resolve the issue quickly would be the proper way. If she feels she has to do that, then that’s the direction she’ll go in,” Paterson said in Albany.
Just two weeks remain until the spending plan is due, but Hochul suggested earlier this week that she might go into legislative overtime rather than capitulate to progressives who want to keep current bail laws in place amid rising crime.
Paterson, a former lieutenant governor, served nearly three years as governor after ex-Gov. Eliot Spitzer resigned amid a prostitution scandal in March 2008 – 15 years before the political haunt “War Room” near the Capitol was renamed to honor Paterson’s legacy.
Fiscal challenges and political turbulence culminating in a 2009 state Senate coup awaited the accidental governor, a longtime state senator who declined to run for a full term as governor.
“The study of David Paterson’s time is critical for this particular moment,” his longtime friend Dr. Clemmie Harris, an associate history professor at Utica College, said about his former roommate Friday. “He governed with humility. He governed with humor, and he was not afraid to go across party lines to get people to understand that while we may all be different, while we may all have differing opinions, we are all still human beings.”
Paterson blazed the trail for Hochul when it comes to using a heavy hand with lawmakers in the budget process – even daring them to shut down the government or accept short-term budget extensions on his terms while he waited them out in negotiations.
The maneuver marked the beginning of the end of a political era when state budgets would regularly get approved months after the April 1 deadline.
“I remember that when I used that process back in 2010, a candidate for governor called me up named Andrew Cuomo. And he said, I am going to take this measure that you figured out and I’m going to take it for a touchdown,” Paterson said his three-term successor.
“And he went on to pass, I believe, 10 of his 11 budgets on time. It’s not really recommended. It shouldn’t be a power grab. It shouldn’t be misused. But there are times when they’re when leadership has to lead,” Paterson added.
He suggested is now one of those times even if it might be easier for Hochul, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx), and state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) to put off action on bail and other controversial topics until later in the year.
“I think New Yorkers are really looking for quick and positive action, particularly with the increase in crime, particularly with the increase in inflation the difficulty of just trying to make ends meet,” Paterson, who has criticized bail reform in the past, said.
Hochul has proposed to eliminate for serious offenses a legal standard that requires judges give criminal defendants the “least restrictive conditions” ahead of their trial even in cases where the crime would otherwise allow the use of cash bail.
Critics point to other states where crime is also rising while arguing there is not enough data to justify changing criminal justice reforms first approved in 2019 though anecdotal evidence suggests repeat offenders are taking advantage of the current bail limits.
The state Senate and Assembly on Thursday passed resolutions outlining their budget priorities while rebuking Hochul on key issues like bail, charter schools, and housing.
Yet, Paterson said he remains optimistic that Hochul, Heastie and Stewart-Cousins – the so-called “three people in a room” who call the shots in state government – will get a budget done by April 1.
“I think they’re close enough that they could really surprise everyone and pass this budget on time,” he said.
The “Black, Blind And In Charge” author has enjoyed a second act as a lobbyist and elder statesman known for his trademark humor since leaving public office at the beginning of 2011.
He treated reporters and friends to an anecdote Friday about former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton from the day when Spitzer resigned.
The outgoing governor left it to his successor to inform statewide officials such as Clinton, then a U.S. senator, about the imminent transfer of power.
“I said, well, you know, in 45 minutes, he’ll resign and I guess he’ll talk about it a bit and she says: ‘But I’m asking you why is he resigning?’ And I’m thinking, How do you explain a sex scandal to Hillary Clinton?” the jocular Paterson remembered Friday.
He then added another one-liner to his body of humorous comments after being asked by The Post how he could ever top the honor of having a 133-year-old building named in his honor just blocks away from the Executive Mansion where a sugar maple devoted to his legacy got planted months ago
“I think we should all take my birthday off every year,” he said.