How’s this for an ambivalent introduction: On a chilly Tuesday night in December, City Councilman Al Vann, who has clung to elective office since 1974, stands before the pulpit of Bed-Stuy’s stately First A.M.E. Zion Church to welcome Governor David Paterson. “He is a brilliant, brilliant young man,” Vann says, before shrugging his massive shoulders. “Is he going to run next year? I don’t know,” Vann says. “But at this moment, our prodigal son has returned!”
Enter the governor, smiling, to warm applause. “I am running for governor in 2010!” Paterson says, shouting. “I’m black, I’m blind, and I’m still alive!”
It is a great line, and the crowd of about 200 rises to cheer. Paterson deserves the ovation—not for simply surviving to the age of 55, but for thriving despite long odds imposed on him by race and physical disability, and for attempting to rein in the profligate state budget. Does he deserve four more years as governor? Despite feeble poll and fund-raising numbers and the unsubtle hints of President Obama that he should get lost, Paterson says he’ll leave it up to the voters.
New York is the city of ego; that’s part of our excellence, the belief that we’re the best, the most indispensable, the toughest, the fighter who won’t quit even when bloodied and dizzy. Sometimes, of course, that attitude blusters into shamelessness and produces questionable results. But Governor Paterson’s Brooklyn declaration of resilience is a perfect expression of admirable New York indomitability, a quality shared by an entire crop of our current politicians: They refuse to go away, even when the law, the voters, or sanity says they should.
Mike Bloomberg could be exiting City Hall at the end of December to applause and to a noble new life as a full-time philanthropist. Instead he tore up the term-limits law, then threw $102 million into a reelection campaign. Bloomberg is a skilled manager and a walking advertisement for New York’s ability to reward those willing to be lucky and ambitious. The downside is a self-regard bordering on grandiosity.
Speaking of which: Rudy Giuliani spent $59 million to win one presidential delegate in 2008. Eliot Spitzer bullied and slept his way out of a golden chance to reform state government. Yet despite these failures, or maybe because of them, both continue to demand attention. At least they haven’t been convicted of anything. New York politics is also home to (accidental) girlfriend-slashing state senator Hiram Monserrate, who of course hasn’t resigned, but who hasn’t even been censured by his colleagues. Perhaps they’ve been distracted by the Joe Bruno trial.
The upcoming campaign season will likely demonstrate that the sheer unkillable-ness of our politicians sometimes pays off. Six years ago an abortive run for governor, and a messy public divorce, left Andrew Cuomo unloved in every sense. A landslide victory in the 2010 governor’s race would complete a remarkable rebirth. The only thing standing in the way? David Paterson’s dropping out, voluntarily. But that wouldn’t be the New York style.