Paterson has made so many missteps, and has been so ineffective as governor, and as a result his popularity has sunk so low, that Obama is concerned that he will drag down the entire New York Democratic slate if he is the Democratic candidate for governor in 2010. So Obama has asked Paterson to drop his campaign to be elected in his own right to the office to which he succeeded a year and a half ago. So far, Paterson has not called Obama a racist for calling Paterson a hopeless loser and for taking the unprecedented step of publicly using the influence of the presidency to push a state governor out of office, though Paterson earlier said that the criticisms he had received from the media for his performance as governor were due to racism. The
Obama Said to Request That Paterson Drop Campaign
WASHINGTON—President Obama has sent a request to Gov. David A. Paterson that he withdraw from the New York governor’s race, fearing that Mr. Paterson cannot recover from his dismal political standing, according to two senior administration officials and a New York Democratic operative with direct knowledge of the situation.
The decision to ask Mr. Paterson to step aside was proposed by political advisers to Mr. Obama, but approved by the president himself, one of the administration officials said.
“Is there concern about the situation in New York? Absolutely,” the second administration official said Saturday evening. “Has that concern been conveyed to the governor? Yes.”
The administration officials and the Democratic operative spoke on condition of anonymity because the discussions with the governor were intended to be confidential.
The president’s request was conveyed to the Mr. Paterson by Representative Gregory W. Meeks, a Queens Democrat, who has developed a strong relationship with the Obama administration, they said.
The move against a sitting Democratic governor represents an extraordinary intervention into a state political race by the president, and is a delicate one, given that Mr. Paterson is one of only two African-American governors in the nation.
But Mr. Obama’s political team and other party leaders have grown increasingly worried that the governor’s unpopularity could drag down Democratic members of Congress in New York, as well as the Democratic-controlled Legislature, in next fall’s election.
Mr. Paterson and his aides did not respond to repeated requests for comment Saturday. Mr. Paterson arrived on Long Island Saturday evening to attend a dinner, but walked hurriedly past a reporter who tried to ask him about the White House request.
An aide to Mr. Meeks said the congressman could not be reached Saturday.
“The message the White House wanted to send—that it wants Paterson to step aside—was delivered,” said the Democratic operative,, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the discussions were intended to be confidential. “He is resistant.”
The general election is more than a year away, but Mr. Obama and his political team are moving now in part because of signals from Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former New York City mayor, that he may run for governor, according to Democrats who have spoken with White House officials. Many Democratic leaders believe that Mr. Giuliani’s presence at the top of the Republican ticket could spark enthusiasm among his party’s voters, who might otherwise have little desire to go to the polls.
Leading Democrats in the state have expressed deep concern about Mr. Paterson’s ability to hold on to the office. But most have been wary of openly suggesting he step aside.
The White House move could give them cover to abandon Mr. Paterson and endorse another candidate, most likely Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo, who has been debating for months whether to take on Mr. Paterson in a primary.
Mr. Paterson, who was elevated to governor from lieutenant governor in March 2008, in the wake of Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s resignation after a prostitution scandal, announced in October that he would seek a full term.
But in the intervening months, White House officials have watched the deteriorating political fortunes of Mr. Paterson with growing alarm, as his popularity plunged and he committed a series of missteps that raised questions about his ability to govern.
In addition, the relationship between Mr. Obama and Mr. Paterson has been shaky, dating to the governor’s selection of a replacement for Hillary Rodham Clinton, who resigned from the Senate to become secretary of state. White House officials had received assurances from Mr. Paterson that he would not pick Kirsten E. Gillibrand, then a little-known Democratic congresswoman from a heavily Republican district outside of Albany, according to a prominent Democrat who discussed the matter with a senior White House official.
The White House and Democratic House leaders were concerned that her sudden departure from the House would give Republicans a prime opportunity to reclaim the seat. Aides to the president conveyed those concerns to the governor, according to Democrats who have discussed the matter with Mr. Obama’s aides.
In the end, Mr. Paterson selected Ms. Gillibrand anyway, infuriating White House officials and Democratic leaders in Washington. Making matters worse, the governor also publicly snubbed Caroline Kennedy, a close personal friend and ally of Mr. Obama’s, who announced in December her wish to be chosen as Mrs. Clinton’s replacement, but then withdrew her name from consideration in January, citing personal reasons.
The concerns of Obama aides deepened last month, when the governor, speaking on a radio talk show in New York, suggested that criticism of him was racially motivated and that Mr. Obama would soon suffer similar attacks. Mr. Obama’s advisers, who have long sought to defuse the issue of race, found the comments inflammatory and expressed their displeasure directly to the Paterson camp.
The move by the White House will probably bring new attention to Mr. Cuomo, now the most popular Democratic figure in the state. While only 30 percent of voters in a Quinnipiac poll last month approved of the job that Mr. Paterson was doing, 74 percent approved of Mr. Cuomo’s job performance.
The situation between Mr. Cuomo and Mr. Paterson has been a complicated one. Mr. Cuomo is still haunted by the fierce backlash he stirred in 2002 when he decided to run in the Democratic primary for governor against H. Carl McCall, the first serious black candidate for governor.
Now, Mr. Cuomo effectively has the blessing of the nation’s first black president to run against New York’s first black governor. That will probably neutralize any criticism he may face among the governor’s prominent black allies, including Representative Charles B. Rangel of Harlem, who warned this year that the party would become racially polarized if Mr. Cuomo took on Mr. Paterson.