New York's Lieutenant Governor, David Paterson, was sworn in as the state's 55th Governor Monday, one week after reports linking former governor Eliot Spitzer to a high-priced call girl ring rocked the state and led to Spitzer's resignation. Paterson, who is legally blind, becomes the first African American governor of New York state and only the fourth in the nation's history. From VOA's New York Bureau, correspondent Barbara Schoetzau has the details.
David Paterson was greeted with wild applause by fellow lawmakers and elected officials from New York and neighboring states as he took over the helm of state government.
Paterson spent 20 years in the capital, Albany, where he was a popular state senator representing Harlem before he became lieutenant governor in 2006. He chose a joint legislative chamber as the site of his swearing in ceremony. In his address, Paterson sought to restore confidence in a population still reeling from the news leading to Spitzer's downfall and shocks on Wall Street.
"Today is Monday," he said. "There is work to be done. There is trust that needs to be restored. There are issues that need to be addressed. And all of us as we set to it must be aware of one truth that rises above all else: it is that New York families are more challenged today than they even were yesterday."
Paterson, who is legally blind, memorized much of his speech, peppering it with jokes and personal references. But he also struck a note of seriousness, stressing the need for bipartisan efforts to improve the state's economy and get the annual budget passed. New York state is known for its acrimonious annual budget debates and contentious politics.
"They call what we do public service for a reason," he said. "Because it is not politics. It is not parties. It is not power that counts at the end of the day. Those interests can vanish in a moment. It is the service that endures. It is the service that is our mark. My colleagues, isn't that what called us to work in government the first place?"
The audience gave Paterson a standing ovation as he called on legislators to put personal politics aside in favor of the interest of the people.
Paterson, a 53-year-old Democrat, comes from a prominent political family with deep roots in New York.
He takes office with enormous good will on both sides of the political aisle. Former Governor George Pataki, a Republican, calls him a terrific person.
"He's a person of intelligence and integrity and a friend," he said. "Most importantly, someone who respects others in public office. I just hope that he has a tremendous success and see no reason why he should not."
Paterson has promised to pursue most of the reform agenda of his former running mate, Eliot Spitzer, who was elected in a landslide in 2006. New York's senior US Senator, Democrat Charles Schumer, says he believes Paterson can enlist bipartisan support for reform.
"He will show the legislature a great deal of respect and I think that's important," he said. "But I also think there is a fundamental strength there and he will sit down and try to reason with them and say 'Look we have to change this, we have to change that'. I think in a certain sense, it is going to be far more positive than people imagine."
The nation's only other sitting African American governor, Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, was among those attending the ceremony as were the governors of neighboring New Jersey and Connecticut. President Bush called Paterson before the ceremony with good wishes.