I suspect that New Yorkers someday will miss Gov. David Paterson after Comedy Central or CBS or some other competitor snatches him away from Albany, perhaps with the promise of a variety show or comedy hour, something to run up against the new Jay Leno show. Paterson is deadly serious when he needs to be, but adept at defusing the worst political tensions with self-deprecation, a quip or comedic remark.
Contrast Paterson’s easy persona with the one that the Justice Department alleges has been at devilish work in the Illinois governor’s office. In case you missed the headlines, the Justice Department alleges today that Gov. Rob Blagojevich has lost his mind. Actually, that isn’t among the criminal charges that Blagojevich faces, but it might as well be. The Illinois governor was arrested this morning for going on what U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said was “a political corruption crime spree” that needed to be stopped.
The alleged spree involves allegations that Blagojevich has been “shopping” the U.S. Senate seat that President-elect Barack Obama recently vacated; it’s up to the Illinois governor to decide who gets it, and he allegedly has not been shy about requesting compensation for the post. The Senate seat is “a bleeping valuable thing. You just don’t give it away. . . . I’ve got this thing and it’s bleeping golden,” Fitzgerald quoted the governor as saying.
A wiretap allegedly captures Blagojevich in full-pitch mode, “I’m going to keep this Senate option for me a real possibility, you know, and therefore I can drive a hard bargain. You hear what I’m saying? And if I don’t get what I want and I’m not satisfied with it, then I’ll just take the Senate seat myself,” according to an affidavit.
Class act, no? Said Fitzgerald: “The conduct would make Lincoln roll over in his grave.” A wiretap also captures the governor and his wife seeking to get the Chicago Tribute editorial board fired, in exchange for help with the newspaper’s owner’s financial woes.
Contrast the Illinois governor’s approach with Paterson’s. Both men have a Senate seat to fill, but you don’t hear New York’s governor running a blue light special on Hillary Clinton’s seat. Indeed, in a speech in Washington on Saturday, he broke up the room with a comedy routine that featured good-sport politicians Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Sens. Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer leaving (fake) phone messages concerning the seat being vacated by Clinton, Obama’s pick for secretary of state. During his weekend appearance, Paterson played back the “messages,” which included one from Paterson to himself.
Funny stuff. It certainly pays to have a sense of perspective about government and tough decisions. Of course, it must also help to have some integrity to go along with it.