Spitzer's Heir Apparent

At 9 a.m. Tuesday morning, New York Lt. Gov. David Paterson's office was a quiet place; one reporter and one cameraman lingered on couches outside. But as rumors that his boss, Gov. Eliot Spitzer, might resign grew louder by the hour, so too did the din surrounding Paterson. By midafternoon at least 50 reporters, photographers and cameramen were waiting outside his office—a level of press attention virtually unheard of for the No. 2 official in Albany. One local reporter, stunned by the spectacle, proclaimed, "I've never seen this before."

Albany is adrift. Will the governor resign? When will the decision come? If he goes, when will Paterson take charge? And when will the budget get passed? These were among the questions swirling around New York's capital city. But amid the uncertainty one thing is clear: if Paterson does take the reins, he will bring to the governor's office a sharp departure in style from his predecessor. Spitzer famously referred to himself as a "steamroller." Paterson, by contrast, handles matters with humor and has demonstrated a willingness to compromise, according to lobbyists and legislators who spoke to NEWSWEEK.

Most legislators preferred to remain quiet—many do not want to speak to the press until Spitzer issues an official resignation. And Paterson, who would become New York's first African-American chief executive, did not return a phone call. But those who were willing to talk described Spitzer's No. 2 as ready to lead Albany back to normalcy. Legislators expect that he would bring a more cordial style to the office.

"I think he's known for his humor," says Barbara Bartoletti, a reform lobbyist and government insider who has worked the state capitol for more than two decades. "This is a legislator who has been here for 21 years, was the minority leader [and has a] working relationship with Mr. Bruno and Mr. Silver … I think there is confidence here in the capital among lobbyists and insiders who frequent the capital that he is a very bright man, deals with things with humor."

Paterson may not have the kind of high profile Spitzer brought with him to the governor's mansion, but he is no stranger to politics. His father, Basil A. Paterson, was New York's secretary of state under Gov. Mario Cuomo and went on to serve as vice chairman of the Democratic Party. David Paterson, who is legally blind, was elected to the state senate from a Harlem district in 1985 and served in the legislature for more than 20 years—rising to the position of minority leader in the assembly before taking his current post. "There doesn't seem to be any hesitation from anyone who knows Mr. Paterson whether he's ready for prime time," says Bartoletti. "Here in the capitol he is well known and well respected."

Even Jim Tedisco, a Republican who has been leading the call for Spitzer's resignation, says he would eagerly welcome Paterson as his replacement. Tedisco succeeded Paterson as the minority leader in the assembly; he thinks that that experience gave Paterson the know-how and connections to work more effectively with legislators.

"He's more congenial, not 'the highway or my way' kind of guy," says Tedisco, who plans to introduce a resolution calling for Spitzer's impeachment if a resignation is not forthcoming within the next few days. "He had the same job that I had in the senate. He's well liked." Tedisco had many heated battles with Spitzer, largely over the governor's plan to give driver's licenses to illegal aliens. He expects ideological clashes with Paterson—but foresees a smoother working relationship. "In terms of his ideology we have some disagreements, but he might be a fellow that when you have disagreements you sort them out," says Tedisco. "I think with the previous governor, it was sort of difficult to sort things out. But compromise is necessary."

The speculation about Paterson seemed a welcome respite from Monday's stunning news. "Yesterday it was dumbfounded shock. People walked around like somebody had died," says Bartoletti. But now the legislature is attempting to regroup and beginning to plan for a possible post-Spitzer era. Part of Paterson's appeal, it seems, is the slight calm he might bring to a very shaken capitol.