As with any intriguing and influential New Yorker, there is much to discuss with David Paterson, but during this One On 1 interview, NY1 got a look at a day in his life, a year-and-a-half after leaving the governor's office. NY1's Budd Mishkin filed the following report.
This is how David Paterson told his radio audience that he was being profiled on NY1's "One On 1" — "Features with people who have some value. This was a rough week, so they decided to do the show about me."
David Paterson has always had a good sense of humor. That's old news. But there is something new in his life since leaving the governor's office.
"It's an instant enjoyment in the morning. I wake up and everything is not my fault," he says.
These days, New Yorkers can hear David Paterson on WOR Radio.
He is also serving on the board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, appropriate since he rides the subway to work.
"People don't believe I'm actually down here, but I am," the former governor says.
Paterson, who is legally blind, serves as a consultant for the National Federation for the Blind.
After more than two decades as state senator, lieutenant governor and governor, Paterson has had to learn how to be independent all over again.
"I hadn't crossed a street in four years alone. I hadn't rode the subway in probably 10 years because I had a car," says Paterson.
In his last weeks in office, Paterson expressed genuine trepidation about this transition from governor to private life. But the only thing that seems to slow Paterson down on the walk from his apartment to the subway is the steady stream of well-wishers.
"I actually have to assess how long it takes me to get to places, every day," he says.
The conversation often continues on the subway.
"They don't believe I'm really on the train by myself. They think security is nearby. I think I'm safer than ever," Paterson says.
Paterson mastered the subway system as a young man. He says he has the same zeal to control his mobility and his independence as he did then.
"There are people who care about me who are frightened about it, but it's the only way I can live, and it's the only way a number of New Yorkers can live, exactly the same way," he says.
Regardless of your view of David Paterson's almost three years as governor, there is no denying that the circumstances surrounding his sudden ascension to the position were, in the true sense of the word, "fantastic."
One moment, Paterson was lieutenant governor, scheduled to attend a meeting with Cardinal Edward Egan. The next moment, he heard unforgettable news.
"Around 1:15 [p.m.], I get a call from the governor's secretary and tells me this incredible story and the governor was planning on resigning at 2:15. So it gave me an hour," says Paterson. "They said, 'What can we do to help you?' and all I could was ask them, 'Is the cardinal still here? I want to see him.'"
Eliot Spitzer's resignation and admission that he paid for prostitutes was followed a few days later by Paterson's admission that he had been unfaithful at a difficult time in his marriage.
Paterson says because he had not been vetted, he chose to speak about this at the beginning of his term.
"From the public, we have always been lauded about that. However, what the media seemed to think what that was an open invitation to further intrusions and the feeding frenzy, I thought, became over the top," Paterson says.
Paterson's approval ratings were low. The White House even got involved, asking him not to seek a full term. Paterson initially resisted, then relented.
"I don't think I told myself that I was the governor, oddly enough, until I decided not to run for election in 2010. Those last 10 months, I was the governor," says Paterson. "I actually missed leaving because I thought, 'Oh wow, I finally figured out how to run this place and it's time to leave."
David Paterson was born in Brooklyn and is the son of Harlem. But he was raised primarily in Hempstead, Long Island. He says his parents moved him there because the New York City public school system would not guarantee that he would be educated with other students.
"I think if I had gone to a school for the blind that I could've done well but I don't think I would've had the interactions that would have enabled me to have gone as far," Paterson says.
But Paterson has one major regret from those years.
"I should have learned Braille when I was a child. For whatever reason the school systems were frowning on the use of Braille," says Paterson. "I don't blame my parents for that. They were reacting to what they were told at the time."
He says he never felt pressure from his father, the long-time political leader Basil Paterson.
But while he was in college, David Paterson was rejected for a summer job with a catering service. He thought it was because of his blindness. The perceived discrimination affected his performance at Columbia, where he had excelled, and caused him to drop out of school.
"All of a sudden, I became a huge disappointment, not to my family, but that's how I felt I was being treated," says Paterson. "So there was a tremendous amount of pressure, I think mostly mitigated by my father telling me through all these processes that what he really wanted me to do was to lead a productive and happy life."
He graduated from Columbia, then Hofstra Law School, and worked at the Queens district attorney's office, before becoming a state senator, lieutenant governor and governor, at times driven by anger from feelings of mistreatment.
"I found it motivating. I wanted to prove to every single person that doubted me that they were mistaken," Paterson says.
As a young boy, Paterson was inspired watching Robert F. Kennedy speak at the 1964 Democratic convention. He wanted to become a senator, advocating on behalf of important issues.
Then all of a sudden, Paterson was governor, and when Hillary Clinton left her Senate seat to become secretary of state, Paterson could have named himself.
"There was no lieutenant governor, and there was a [state] senate that was in conflict as to who was in charge," Paterson says. "That would have been bad government, and it would have been my fault for leaving. And I know you guys would have reminded me of that. So it was the right choice actually, not to fulfill your lifetime dream."
The scars from his time as governor will no doubt take some time to heal, though Paterson says he now leaves such things "to the universe."
He talks about trying too hard in the past to prove things to people, and yet sometimes he feels it return.
"Here I am at WOR, and I sort of feel that same sort of natural instinct coming back that I'm going to prove that I can do talk radio. I guess when life stops becoming a series of challenges, you may not be living your life anymore," says Paterson.
His radio show can be heard weekdays from 4-6 p.m. on WOR.
One item that hardly bears mentioning — the former governor, a big sports fan, would be feeling much better these days if his beloved Queens team, the New York Mets, was winning.