At the age of 56, David Paterson rose to the highest office in New York State despite his disability.
When he was three months old, he got an ear infection that spread to his optic nerve, leaving him legally blind. Nevertheless, his parents saw to it that he be educated in a normal environment. He went to school with children who had no disability.
Paterson grew up in a household with powerful political connections, hence, he met many of the elected leaders of the African American community.
These and many other factors would push him to become the 55th governor of New York. He is the first African American to serve as New York governor and the second legally blind governor of a U.S. state.
Paterson, who graduated from Hofstra Law School, entered Democratic politics and had a successful run. He was elected to the State Senate and, then, became Minority Leader and subsequently Lt. Governor when Eliot Spitzer ran for Governor.
Paterson’s elevation came as a surprise to New Yorkers when in 2008 Spitzer resigned in a prostitution scandal and Paterson stepped up to become a governor- a job he did not pursue.
Spitzer resigned on St. Patrick’s Day and the Legislature subsequently witnessed “scandal after scandal, including an infamous deal that gave two relatively inexperienced Democratic senators key jobs temporarily — provided the Democrats ceded control of the Senate to their Republican rivals,” reports NBC New York.
Even though Paterson was legally blind, during his tenure, he managed to memorize long political speeches and deliver them without blemish. He could also memorise statistics and deliver them at news conferences.
In no time, Paterson was accused of abusing his office and a scandal that ensued took him out of the race for a full term as governor.
Paterson was in 2010 being investigated for allegations that he and the state police who report to him pressured a woman to drop domestic violence charges against his close aide, David Johnson.
In a press conference, he noted: “I’ve never abused my office, not now, not ever.” Attorney General Andrew Cuomo undertook an investigation of what, some of the governor’s critics said, amounted to criminal wrongdoing.
“His wife, Michelle, stood silently, expressionless, beside the Governor as he bowed out, promising to work tirelessly for the people of New York in the 308 days left in his term. Paterson’s political enemies may be cheering his exit, but there’s a sad aspect to this story,” Pressman reported.
Paterson had also been blamed for a series of corruption while others tagged him as a weak leader.
“I have covered seven governors and I can never remember such a concerted attack. He managed to overcome every obstacle but this last obstacle was clearly too much,” Pressman stated.
In February 2010, Paterson abandoned his campaign to seek a new term.
“There are times in politics when you have to know not to strive for service but to step back, and that moment has come for me,” he said while announcing his resignation.
During the final year of his administration, Paterson faced allegations of witness tampering, soliciting improper gifts, and making false statements and he was eventually fined for having lied under oath.
After leaving office, Paterson became a radio talk show host and served as chairman of the New York Democratic Party from May 2014 to November 2015.
For political strategist Hank Sheinkopf, “Paterson will be remembered as somebody who had problems but did the right thing for his party and his state.”