David A. Paterson has ascended to the governorship of New York to become the first African American of the Empire State and the second presently in the nation.
David Alexander Paterson was sworn in as the first African American Governor of the State of New York on March 17. He was the Lieutenant Governor, having been selected by the previous governor—who resigned due to a set of unfortunate circumstances—as his running mate in the 2006 gubernatorial election. In 1985, Paterson arrived in Albany as the youngest state senator, standing on the shoulders of his father, Basil Paterson, who also served in the State Senate in the same seat young Paterson vacated to become governor.
Though Paterson’s vision is severely limited—he is considered legally blind—he brought a visionary focus to all that he touched by becoming an advocated for the visually-impaired. In addition to being an excellent student, he plays basketball extremely well, was elected as a member of the American Foundation for the Blind and is a board member of the Achilles Track Club, an organization that sponsors disabled athletes and veterans competing in marathons.
After receiving his law degree in 1983, he went to work for the District Attorney’s office in Queens and later on, he joined the campaign staff of David Dinkins (the future mayor of New York) while he was running for Manhattan Borough President. Then Paterson won the Manhattan Democratic Party Committee’s blessing to serve the remainder of 30th State Senate district seat after the incumbent had died. The following year, he won his first full term for the state senate representing the 29th district and has since garnered praise for his consensus-building style and sharp political skills. He was elected as the Senate Minority Leader in 2002 as the highest Black elected official in the history of New York State.
According to the media, he has chalked up a heavily liberal record, which is not unusual, given that as a state senator, his constituency is mainly Harlem and his roots are Brooklyn, where he was born. As a member of the Democratic National Committee, he addressed the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston, as well as the U. S. Conference of Mayors. When Paterson was tapped to run for Lieutenant Governor, he balanced the ticket in such a way that gave the ticket the largest margin of victory in a gubernatorial race in New York State history, and since then he has been mentioned as a possible successor to Senator Hillary Clinton, should she become the next president. He is also a super-delegate of the Democratic Party.
Civil rights icon, famed attorney and businessman Percy Sutton, a close friend of the Paterson family who has known the Governor since he was a little child said, “This young man, though legally blind can do back flips; he can run a marathon. He is one of the wittiest, nicest, most wonderful people that I know. His father and I are close friends. I watched him grow up; I watched him took form. He made speeches for me years ago when I couldn’t go, and I just think that he is wonderful. He’s going to be a superb governor. Already people are cheering for him as I am.”
Congressman Charles Rangel who has also been a close friend of the Paterson family for decades sent the new governor a letter, which expressed deep admiration for his past accomplishments and the historic achievement. The letter stated, “Your ascension to the state’s highest office fills me with pride. You have always defied expectations, compiling a record of accomplishment as a member and leader of the New York State Senate. There are difficult days ahead for New York and the nation. The prospects for the next generation and the vitality of our democracy will be determined by the choices we make over the next few years. Our investments in education, healthcare, and jobs will define the kind of world we leave for our children and grandchildren.” The letter ended, “Congratulations, Governor.”
Paterson’s ascension to the governorship of New York has produced solid historical markers for his state, the nation, and also for African American history. He now joins the exclusive club of Blacks who have served as state governors including Pinckney Benton Stewart “P.B.S.” Pinchback of Louisiana, L. Douglas Wilder of Virginia, and Deval L. Patrick of Massachusetts. It is the first time in American history that there are two African American governors serving at the same time.