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What Does Paterson Staying in Office Mean for the State, and for Andrew Cuomo?

Now that Paterson's influence is becoming more apparent in the incident where a frightened ex-girlfriend of his aide and close confidant dropped a request for an order of protection, he's likely to face consistent pressure to resign. According to a report from The Wall Street Journal, state Democratic leader Jay Jacobs headed to Albany this morning to try to convince Paterson to step aside. He won't be the first state party official to do so, and he won't be the last. But so long as Paterson's not proven to have done anything illegal, he'll likely want to hang on to his office for the remaining ten months he has left.

Whatever happens likely won't have much of an effect on the biggest issue facing the state right now, the gaping budget deficit. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver seems to be running that show for now, and he is looking to Lieutenant Governor Dick Ravitch to become the executive office's point man on the issue. Ravitch is a trusted figure, he's said he has no interest in being elected in the fall, and he has an expert, steady hand.

Knowing Albany, impeachment proceedings would gum up all of the legislative machinery, and cause another humiliating spectacle after last year's State Senate shenanigans. Those interested in the state's well-being — and finding a solution to the budget mess, which needs to be resolved by the end of this month — will hope to avoid that at all costs. Which is where, for better or for worse, Andrew Cuomo comes in. He's investigating Paterson at the governor's request.

Sources from inside Cuomo's camp have made it clear that the attorney general won't announce his candidacy for the governorship so long as his investigations into Paterson and Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada are still ongoing. If Paterson leaves office now under a cloud, Cuomo will be in the position of beating a horse that has already died. (With some black leaders already injecting race into the perceived persecution of Paterson, that wouldn't likely be a comfortable spot for Cuomo.)

If Paterson stays in office while Cuomo's investigation drags on, however, it will provide more political cover for Cuomo. He'll be able to linger — as he has been for months — on the sidelines of contentious debates over the budget, statewide health care, schools, and taxes. This is already driving Republican candidate Rick Lazio crazy, but the "Paterson investigation" excuse is plausible enough to get him past Lazio's criticism. Really, it couldn't be a better situation for Cuomo — as the man in charge of the probe, he's got a hand in how long it lasts. Once the message gets across to Democratic leaders who want him in office in the fall, we wouldn't be surprised if the number of pushy visitors at the Governor's Mansion dwindles to a trickle.

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Photo: Chris Hondros/Getty Images