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Albany, NY - Gov. David Paterson's Senate Minority Leader's Tenure Marked by Chaos, Dysfunction

Published on: March 23, 2009 08:41 AM
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Gov. Paterson has had a rocky year, facing accusations of being a dysfunctional manager - a charge that echoes a report on his abilities as boss when he was minority leader of the state Senate. (AP Photo/Jim McKnight) Gov. Paterson has had a rocky year, facing accusations of being a dysfunctional manager - a charge that echoes a report on his abilities as boss when he was minority leader of the state Senate. (AP Photo/Jim McKnight)
Albany NY - A bombshell secret report sizing up David Paterson’s leadership when he was Senate minority leader found his office mired in chaos, lacking clear lines of communication and hobbled by dysfunction and indecisiveness.

The 2005 report, based on interviews with key aides, is a devastating early look at the bumbling management style that would come to define Paterson’s first year as governor.

“Leader Paterson has a restaurant maitre d’ style of management - whatever the members want,” Jonathan Rosen, then a top staffer for Senate Democrats, told a Paterson aide who was tapped to interview staffers and compile their opinions.


“Paterson is afraid of the conference; leads by consensus,” the report says Rosen believed at the time. “This is a huge liability.”

One top aide who should have been imposing discipline instead boozed with subordinates and came to work hung over, one employee griped.

A politically connected hire had only one job: to make sure drawers were stocked with copier paper, another revealed.

Aides were promised the report would be kept confidential.

But it was hardly well-guarded. It was discovered tucked in a filing cabinet at the Legislative Office Building in Albany and obtained by the Daily News.

Paterson spokesman Errol Cockfield called the report “outdated.”

“Since the governor took office a year ago, he has displayed strong leadership by raising early alarms about the economic crisis and continually making the tough fiscal choices that will improve the state’s long-term health and the lives of everyday New Yorkers,” Cockfield said.

Chronicle of shortcomings

Paterson’s inability to lead and his difficulty with saying no have been an open secret in Albany since his days as the Senate minority leader, a post he held from January 2003 to January 2007, when he was sworn in as former Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s lieutenant.

But this was the first time his shortcomings were chronicled in crushing detail - and by the very people he was supposed to be rallying to oust the Republican Senate majority.

And he brought it on himself.

Paterson ordered up the top-to-bottom review of the Democratic conference and its staff in the summer of 2005. He asked Queens Sen. Malcolm Smith, a close ally, to head it up.

At the time, Democratic lawmakers were trying to capture the Senate majority from Republicans, and Paterson wanted an honest assessment of their strengths and weaknesses, sources said.

Smith had Meredith Henderson, then Paterson’s director of human resources, conduct the interviews and compile the report.

Henderson interviewed everyone from top staffers such as Charles O’Byrne, then Paterson’s director of press operations, to lower-level research assistants.

The report reveals an operation beset by infighting, larded with patronage hires and lacking any clear direction or vision from the top.

The complaints are nearly four years old - but the criticism is similar to that Paterson faces today.

“Each department functions separately; there is a lack of communication; no real message; no real platform and no agenda,” regional coordinator Jaclyn Kessel told Henderson.

You “feel like you are fighting the people that you are working with,” Kessel is quoted as saying.

Esther Greenbaum, a research assistant, said there was “no cohesive message from the top"and complained about “patronage hires.”

“There are titles with no meaning to the titles. ... There is staff whose duty it is to put paper in the computer draw [sic],” Greenbaum said.

Dysfunctional operation

Alexandra Stanton, senior policy adviser to the minority leader, told Henderson she considered the Senate Democrats’ overarching mission was to “take the majority,” but worried “at least half of the members do not want to work that hard and therefore do not want to be in the majority.”

Stanton cited “dysfunction” in the Senate Democrats’ operation, the report states.

She said there needed to be an implementation of “structure and discipline” and “a willingness on Leader Paterson’s part to abide by the structure.”

Shawn Thompson, who served as O’Byrne’s special assistant, told Henderson: “The leader plays staff against each other.” He said the Democrats had an “inconsistent message” and were “disorganized.”

None of the staffers interviewed still work for the Senate Democrats.

A source familiar with Paterson’s time as minority leader claimed he inherited a staff from Sen. Martin Connor that was “dysfunctional at best” and noted the minority’s lack of resources.

Following the report, Paterson shook up his staff, replacing his old chief of staff, Michael Jones Bey, with O’Byrne, and the situation improved somewhat.

Democrats took control of the Senate in 2008, and Smith is now the majority leader.

Paterson has been besieged with complaints about his leadership since abruptly becoming governor in March 2008 after Spitzer resigned in disgrace.

The chaos became more evident after O’Byrne - a powerful and controlling chief of staff - left in October in the wake of a tax scandal. Paterson bungled the appointment of a successor to Sen. Hillary Clinton - trashing beloved icon Caroline Kennedy in the process - and his approval ratings fell to record lows.

Paterson has since shaken up his staff, bringing in former Westchester Deputy County Executive Larry Schwartz to replace his interim chief of staff, Bill Cunningham, and tapping Peter Kauffmann, a one-time aide to Clinton, as communications director.

Smith spokesman Austin Shafran confirmed Paterson commissioned the report. He said Smith handed off the completed report to Paterson and “never asked about it again.”

“It was handled with all due care that something of this magnitude would certainly deserve,” Shafran said.


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Read Comments (8)  —  Post Yours »


 Mar 23, 2009 at 08:28 AM judge Says:

like we didnt know this


 Mar 23, 2009 at 08:43 AM fedUp Says:

This governor is bad for new york and its time for him to leave. He has such radical ideas that's bad bad for new yorkers


 Mar 23, 2009 at 08:51 AM Anonymous Says:

OK,,, I want to know which genius is surprised????


 Mar 23, 2009 at 08:50 AM Anonymous Says:

Qe forever knew this, the only thing was that everyone won't to put Soitzer in He'll so they have to make a big deal about the next guy...


 Mar 23, 2009 at 09:04 AM Simcha Says:

#4 What are you saying?


 Mar 23, 2009 at 08:52 AM Anonymous Says:

Take back Spitzer from exile, he had his punishment.


 Mar 23, 2009 at 09:17 AM Anonymous Says:

interesting that you piont to his problems as minority leader, he was minority leader with little support. as gov not bad but why arent you reporting about dems new tax grab that will end before patterson runs for gov so he can be a tax cutter
why are you reporting on silvers problems and the fact he never met a tax increase he didnt like


 Mar 24, 2009 at 02:10 AM Floridian Says:

Lay off Governor Patterson! He is the Governor of New York State!


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