Through the years, Paterson and Spitzer had been friendly. “He came to Eliot with this ingenious rope-a-dope idea,” says one former Spitzer aide: Tell the Gang that Spitzer had offered the gig to him and that he had turned it down. Spitzer would appear as if he was open to having a person of color on his ticket, get the Gang off his back, and pick whomever he wanted.
In the meantime, Spitzer looked for Eves who weren’t Eve: Shirley Ann Jackson, president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; Pamela Thomas-Graham, who went to Harvard and became the first female black partner at McKinsey & Co. before going on to run CNBC; and Deborah Wright, head of Carver Bancorp. All declined.
Spitzer was frustrated, the aide says. “The more we thought about it, the more Eliot was like, ‘Why don’t I just ask David? Period.’ ” Spitzer’s people never thought he would go for it. But Paterson found himself considering it seriously. “Did I just like being asked,” he wonders, “and asked by someone I had such profound respect for?” There was also the chance that if Senator Hillary Clinton became president, Spitzer would be choosing her replacement. That could be him. “I saw in it a chance to have a national profile,” he says. “I just had this feeling that if I couldn’t enhance the position, I could make it relevant.”
He could also avenge his father’s loss. “Wouldn’t that be something if 36 years later I could come back and close the deal? I always had a reverence for lieutenant governors. Maybe I was the only one.”
On the trail, the two became close. Spitzer invited Paterson to his parents’ house, introduced him to his wealthy friends. Before he met Spitzer, Paterson says, he purchased his suits from Garage Clothing, a discount operation in Brooklyn. Spitzer took him to Hickey Freeman. “I really liked it,” Paterson says. “So I went back.”
Nonetheless, looking back at his campaign, Paterson says he felt shelved. The Spitzer campaign was not overtly racist, but there were undercurrents, he says, of the sort “that go on in a lot of Democratic campaigns.” He still sounds wounded. In one instance, Spitzer promised to run a television commercial with him. “They never did. They filmed one; they didn’t air it.” The campaign ran another spot. “They did the commercial that was in my school, and there’s a picture of me in my school, but Eliot’s doing all the talking. It was Eliot’s commercial. And somebody tried to tell me that was my commercial. Okay.”
It was personal too. “I got to feel a little bit of perhaps what my father felt,” Paterson says.
Once he was in office, Paterson took over certain projects: stem-cell research, energy policy, minority preferences for state contracts. He campaigned for Hillary in Iowa, where he was traveling with an aide who turned out to be his former lover, Lila Kirton, then on the state payroll for $154,000 a year.
“I bent down, jumped up and did a backflip. The place went crazy. So then I started dancing on my hands.”
Spitzer and Paterson haven’t spoken in months. Spitzer has fumed as Paterson has criticized his governing style, and through intermediaries, the former governor has demanded Paterson issue public apologies. They haven’t come. But for his part, Paterson says, he still has deep respect for Spitzer and vowed to make sure his portrait hangs in the Capital one day. “I’ll hang it myself,” he says.
On March 10, he was about to have lunch at his desk (curry chicken) when he learned from a staffer that Spitzer had been snared by the Feds in a prostitution scandal. If the charges stuck, he would be governor.
He wanted to hide. He called his wife. Paterson called up his father and asked him what to do. “Well,” Basil told him, “you say a prayer.”
“I did. I prayed for Eliot.”
“Well, actually, I meant that you need to say a prayer for yourself.”
He sent for Schneiderman, whom he’d betrayed in favor of supporting Malcolm Smith in another State Senate leadership struggle. The Spitzer news was too weird to hold onto grudges. Schneiderman rushed to David’s office.
“It was just me, Charles, and David staring into space, being like, Okay, now, what do we do?” Schneiderman recalls.
In the beginning, there was chaos. “Our office is getting these requests,” Paterson says. “Where is my love child? And they go to my brother’s basically ex-wife, and they ask, is my nephew really my child?” It was dizzying. “You’re feeling this kind of attack, like all of this gossip, and it’s a popular time to gossip because anyone will listen.”
He volunteered to talk to the Daily News. It didn’t tamp things down. But things were just getting weirder in Albany. Paterson feared that rogue members of the state troopers may have been spying on him. “There was obviously an element in the police force and it wasn’t Republican or Democrat, it was just out-of-control people who had power that were clearly monitoring elected officials,” he said in May. “I was kind of afraid of leaks of inaccurate information myself.” A trooper killed himself; there were investigations everywhere. Asked if he believes he was being spied on, he says, “Well, you know, I’d have to say, probably not.”