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David’s Goliath

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In any other line of work, that kind of equanimity would be evidence of enviable mental health. In politics, unfortunately, it’s an attitude that will get you killed.

Paterson continues to chat confidently and volubly for the next 45 minutes, until the car reaches the semi-circular driveway outside his apartment building. It isn’t just any high-rise: It’s Lenox Terrace, the residence of Harlem’s old-line black elite, including Rangel and Paterson’s father. He’s never completely escaped their shadows or expectations. As the SUV comes to a stop, Paterson interrupts his answer about how he believes the ongoing Albany disaster provides an opening for his political recovery. He’s strangely anxious. “Should we move the car so we can do a few more minutes?” he asks his press secretary. She looks puzzled. Then I realize Paterson is worried about blocking the building’s driveway—an endearing humility, but one that seems misguided, especially with two state troopers sitting in the front seats.

“You’re the governor of the State of New York!” I tell him. “Who’s going to tell you to move?”

“Yeah, that’s right!” Paterson says with a laugh. “My problem is, when I get on that elevator, I’m not feeling like the governor sometimes. One time it was pouring, so the troopers went up the ramp so I could be closer to the door, ’cause I had no raincoat. I came in there, people in the lobby started screaming at me! ‘Don’t you ever put that car there!’ See, in your building, it’s like you’re family—you’re just that guy from the tenth floor.”

But it’s clear that his reaction isn’t simply about etiquette, or about the great leveling New York attitude that doesn’t care if you’re a celebrity—just don’t block the damn door. It’s about his forever complicated position, not just in politics but in the world at large. David Paterson, who built a political career on camaraderie, is all by himself.


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