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Gov. Nice Guy

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Early on in his administration, Paterson issued an executive order to recognize gay marriages from elsewhere; many saw this as more immediately O’Byrne’s agenda. O’Byrne got special permission to have a state driver (and black SUV). “For all intents and purposes, Charles is the governor,” says a party operative.

O’Byrne sees his role as facilitating the governor’s wishes—nothing more. He doesn’t like to talk on the record.

Paterson is changing—adapting, improvising. He learned from Spitzer where to shop, he hired his consultants, and his new drink is Merlot. He even holds meetings sometimes in an old Spitzer haunt, the Three Guys diner on Madison Avenue.

His party, and many of his advisers, including Stiglitz, think that if he continues to cut the budget, he’ll cause more problems for the state. “In recession,” Stiglitz argued in a letter to Paterson, “you want to raise (or not decrease) the level of total spending—by households, businesses, and government—in the economy.” He does have options. The “economically preferable” choice, Stiglitz wrote, is “to raise taxes on those with high incomes [rather] than to cut state expenditures.” But on October 3 Paterson said he wasn’t raising taxes, not even on the rich. And with the Democrats likely to take back the State Senate this November, he might have more headaches, with the unions and special interests ready to push their agendas when he’s trying to rein in spending.

His endgame isn’t so much a charge to the finish line but a fox trot across the political spectrum, a move he’s developed over the years in Albany. “He’s the Fred Astaire of New York politics,” says Hank Sheinkopf, the Democratic consultant. “He can sing and dance at the same time, while telling a good joke, and you never know where the next move is coming from.”


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