Oh, Obama...Why’d you have to go and do something like that?
That was the sigh-laden response among borough state legislators last week as they found themselves in a political lurch after President Barack Obama sent word to Governor David Paterson that he would like him not to bow out of the 2010 election.
The move, which has now pitted the country’s first black president with the state’s first black governor, have legislators scrambling to figure out just who to support in this ongoing David (Paterson) vs. Goliath (Obama) grudge-match that has more to do with popularity pol numbers than anything else.
For the most part, state legislators contacted are ignoring the pesky press (namely this reporter) trying to find out just where the borough’s elected officials stand on the subject.
State Senator and Democratic Conference Leader John Sampson (D-Canarsie), State Senator Kevin Parker (D-Flatbush) and State Senator Eric Adams (D-Fort Greene) did not return calls for comment.
Officials at Assemblymember Jim Brennan’s (D-Park Slope) office said the legislator “can’t comment” on the issue when reached. State Senator Daniel Squadron (D-Brooklyn Heights) also refused to comment.
State Senator Carl Kruger (D-Mill Basin) said he can understand their reluctance.
“You have to remember one thing,” he said. “Barack Obama may be the president of the United States, but he’s a product of Chicago politics. If you cause him a problem or interfere with his grand plan, don’t stand near an open window when he’s in the room.”
Kruger agrees with other longtime insiders that Obama’s move is all about politics. Paterson’s poll numbers are so low right now that he would probably lose to a Republican challenger in 2010 (former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani is mulling over a run). That would cause a whole host of problems for Obama’s plans for New York State, as well as the newly Democratic-led State Senate and freshman Democratic federal legislators like Rep. Michael McMahon of Bay Ridge and U.S. Senator Kristen Gillibrand.
If Giuliani does run for Governor and wins, he may make a run against Obama in 2012, so it would behoove the President to nip the whole problem in the bud by making sure a strong Democrat leads the charge at the ballot box -- like say, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.
“If Cuomo is a candidate for Governor, then develops a scenario where he [Obama] sidelines Giuliani, strengthens our hand as we continue to build a majority, protects Gillibrand, [U.S. Senator Charles] Schumer is happy and the world goes on for four more years in the world of Barack Obama,” Kruger said.
While one would find Obama’s reasoning sound, Kruger, who stood with Paterson just two weeks ago when he signed legislation to put voting materials in Russian, believes that the President’s request of Paterson to drop out (which was done through an intermediary) was poorly executed.
“Not only did they cut off his legs politically, but they’ve cut off his ability to do any fundraising,” Kruger said. “That’s not the way you should treat someone who has worked a lot of years, had made a lot of personal sacrifices and took a lot of bullets for this state.”
Carroll Gardens Assemblymember Joan Millman said that she was “surprised” by how things unfolded.
“These are not amateur political people,” she said. “I would think that if they didn’t want something like this to get out it wouldn’t get out.”
Millman understands Obama’s concerns, however.
“It seems to me that if I were president I don’t want to see a repeat of what happened in 1994 when the Democrats lost control,” she said. “I know we have a lot of newly elected and vulnerable elected officials and I’m sure it would be to their advantage to have a strong person on the top of the ticket.”
Millman said that some of the criticisms against Paterson are founded, especially when it comes to his apparent ignorance on current local projects.
“[When he first came into office] Paterson’s people needed some time to get their feet wet,” she said. “They certainly should be more up to speed by now. It’s not like he took office yesterday.”
Still, she said she is keeping an open mind in 2010.
One who is not keeping an open mind is Borough Park Assemblymember Dov Hikind, who has thrown his support completely behind Paterson, who, at least right now, does intend to run in 2010.
Hikind said that Obama’s secondhand request to have Paterson step down was “amateurish and childish.”
“It was definitely the wrong way to do it,” he said. “How do you embarrass someone and let it out publicly? Does he have nothing more on his agenda than to indulge in the politics of New York?”
Although he has supported Giuliani in the past, Hikind said that he will be supporting Paterson, no ifs ands or buts.
But he may change his mind if a bigger candidate -- and we mean a way bigger candidate --comes to town.
“Only if God runs would I change my mind,” he said. “Next to God, I’m supporting Paterson.”