Who is Basil Paterson?

By Noble Johns

New York (BNW) —
Behind every great son is a good father and that can be said about Basil Paterson, father of soon to be governor of New York, David Paterson. Paterson, 53, will become New York's first African-American governor. He also will be the first-ever legally blind governor. He lost all his sight in his left eye from an infection when he was three months old, and he has extremely limited sight in his right eye.

Gov. Paterson is the son of Basil Paterson, an influential power broker and labor lawyer in New York. Basil Paterson served in the state Senate and was the Democrats' unsuccessful nominee for lieutenant governor in 1970. With former Mayor David Dinkins, Rep. Charles Rangel and former Manhattan borough president Percy Sutton, the elder Paterson has been part of the so-called "Harlem Clubhouse" that has been a powerful force in New York politics for nearly 40 years.

Those connections have helped David Paterson climb the political ladder. However, unlike many children who follow their parents into politics, Paterson never was groomed for elected office.

Thirty-six years ago, Basil A. Paterson won the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor. On Tuesday morning, he nominated his son, State Senator David A. Paterson, for the post. As the Democratic delegates greeted him with an ovation, the elder Mr. Paterson said: “I understand your applause very well. I am David’s father.’’

In his address, Senator Paterson thanked both his parents, and shared the secret of why his father did not win the general election in 1970, which was carried by Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller.

“If you ever Google the name Paterson and the name Rockefeller, you will see that they have a lot more money,’’ he said.

Mr. Paterson was, in fact, the second Black nominated by a major party for statewide office in New York. And, given the controversy his selection generated (some upstate residents even warned that black militants might assassinate Arthur J. Goldberg, the candidate for governor, so Mr. Paterson could succeed him), Mr. O’Connell would have been about the only New Yorker confused about his race.

Thirty-six years later, Mr. Paterson’s son, David, who represents the same Harlem district in the State Senate that his father did and lives just around the corner from his parents’ apartment, was nominated for lieutenant governor, and barely anyone mentioned that he is black. In 1970, Basil Paterson was more or less thrust on party leaders by Black and liberal Democrats. This year, Eliot Spitzer drafted David A. Paterson, the Senate minority leader, and they were inaugurated on Jan. 1.

“I was 16 when Basil ran,” David Paterson recalled the other day. “The people were more accepting than the prognosticators.”

Basil Paterson won the Democratic primary, but as Mr. Goldberg’s running mate, he went down to defeat that November as the Democrats were outspent and overpowered by Nelson A. Rockefeller, the incumbent. After the election, some of the political leaders who had been wary of Basil Paterson’s candidacy suggested that he had been a bigger asset to the ticket than Mr. Goldberg.

“He was not considered an asset to the ticket until they lost,” David Paterson said of his father.

“They didn’t use me,” Basil Paterson lamented.

His son interrupted: “They still had some concern about him running” this year. “That’s why they wanted me.”

It’s a tossup whether father or son is the bigger wise guy. (Asked in 1970 to evaluate himself, Basil Paterson replied: “I’m sly, devious, oily and slick. I dress like a pimp and developed a good memory by hustling numbers in Harlem.”)

David A. Paterson was elected New York’s lieutenant governor on November 7, 2006.

Elected to represent Harlem in the New York State Senate in 1985, David Paterson has demanded and achieved change at every level, not simply by what he stands for but by who he is.

In 2002, David Paterson was elected minority leader of the New York State Senate, the first non-white legislative leader in New York’s history. In 2004 in Boston, he became the first visually impaired person to address a Democratic National Convention and 2006 saw Mr. Paterson make history again by being elected New York’s first African-American lieutenant governor.

As New York State Senate minority leader, David Paterson led the charge on several crucial issues for New York’s future, proposing legislation for a $1 billion voter-approved stem cell research initiative, demanding a statewide alternative energy strategy, insisting on strong action to fight against domestic violence, and serving as the primary champion for minority- and women-owned businesses in New York. As a result, Governor Spitzer asked Mr. Paterson to continue to lead New York State on these issues as lieutenant governor.

David Paterson, who is legally blind, is also recognized nationally as a leading advocate for the visually and physically impaired. A graduate of Columbia University and Hofstra Law School, Mr. Paterson also currently serves as an adjunct professor at Columbia’s School for International and Public Affairs. Mr. Paterson lives in Harlem with his wife, Michelle, and their two children, Ashley and Alex. He is the son of Basil Paterson, the first non-white secretary of state of New York and the first African-American vice-chair of the national Democratic Party.

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