Not many knew about his private life. Now everyone did. “Michelle and I knew that we had separated, but we had not discussed it with anyone,” he says. “We did not want our children to be exposed to that kind of fractured family. They never knew. We thought that was the right way to do it because, as long as nobody gets elected governor, your family never even knows this happened.” He says that today they’ve reconciled, but at times he seems almost lonely when talking about her. He often gets back to the governor’s mansion before her. “She does her own thing,” he says.
Looking back, Paterson says he should have handled the scandal differently. “We should have let it go, maybe a month after you’re in office you have a press conference on a Friday afternoon and say, By the way … ” Instead, “We probably made it look more scintillating than it actually was.”
Other things changed when he became governor, too. The troopers escorted his kids to school. He was lunching with Rupert Murdoch. According to copies of his schedule book, Paterson also met with some of Spitzer’s biggest foes. On May 29, he met with Hank Greenberg, whom Spitzer helped oust as head of AIG, and Joe Bruno, another Spitzer enemy, for an hour, privately (Paterson’s spokesperson called it a “courtesy visit”). Public-relations big Howard Rubenstein invited him to special dinners with twenty or so of his most influential clients. After they introduced themselves, Paterson remembered them all by voice. Rubenstein was impressed. “He’s quite remarkable.” Kathryn Wylde, head of the Partnership for New York City, was also impressed. “He’s a grown-up,” she says. “He knows how to listen.”
These are his new patrons, and Paterson isn’t shy about asking for support. “Most people are afraid to call the donors,” he says. “Like, you have to work yourself into it. I take direction well from fund-raisers—you know, just sit there and make calls. They’ve told me I’m as cooperative as anyone.” Paterson fired his old fund-raisers and hired Spitzer’s team. He’s been raising from all the usual suspects at a steady clip, and his war chest for 2010 has grown to over $3 million.
He’s eschewed Spitzer’s self-imposed limit of declining contributions higher than $10,000, which is understandable, considering he doesn’t have Spitzer’s wealth, but the good-government types have been on him for dropping Spitzer’s crusade of reform and transparency. “He doesn’t even talk about it,” says Blair Horner of NYPIRG. Paterson has also tweaked some rules that favor lobbyists, Horner says. “Every day, more and more, he’s beginning to resemble George Pataki,” says Barbara Bartoletti, legislative director for the League of Women Voters. She calls him secretive.
Paterson thinks that the good-government groups don’t understand that backrooms are necessary. “You can’t always negotiate everything in public,” he says. He’s trying to be practical and build a war chest that’s big enough to scare away any other Democrat (Andrew Cuomo, Thomas Suozzi) from challenging him in a primary. At least now he doesn’t have to worry about Bloomberg.
Paterson’s disability makes it difficult for him to micromanage. In some cases, his memory is all he has. His staff leaves him elaborate messages instead of memos, including the text of his speeches, and he begins each day memorizing every word. It takes up a lot of time.
When he was lieutenant governor, he had to memorize a speech a week. “Now I am speaking nearly every day,” he says. It takes Paterson roughly ten minutes to memorize five minutes of speech. “It’s the only way it gets done,” he says.
More than anyone else, he depends on chief of staff Charles O’Byrne. Other than both being Catholics who went to Columbia University, they would seem to have little in common. O’Byrne stayed on at Columbia for law school, but quit the legal world to join the Jesuits. Through friends, he became close to the Kennedy family and officiated at the wedding of John F. Kennedy Jr. and Carolyn Bessette. But in 2002, he quit the priesthood too, unhappy with what he saw as its rampant hypocrisy. O’Byrne was gay, and as he wrote in an essay for Playboy titled “Sex & Sexuality,” “The reality of religious life was often masked from the rest of the world.” After confessing to having “my share of casual sex” before entering the Church, O’Byrne goes on to call many of his fellow priests “boyologists.” He wanted to live more openly. “I have been at more than one funeral for a priest where his lover was in the front row,” he wrote.
After leaving the Jesuits, he joined the Howard Dean campaign. Once Dean’s effort ended, his New York campaign chief, gay activist Ethan Geto, got him an interview with Paterson, who was looking to hire a policy analyst. Soon Paterson promoted him to chief of staff. O’Byrne has a quality Paterson doesn’t: He can tell people no. “David needs someone to be his id,” says one person who worked with them in the Senate, “and Charles revels in being his knife.”