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Exclusive Interview with NY Gov. Paterson

New York Amsterdam News, News Report, Herb Boyd and Nayaba Arinde Posted: May 06, 2009

Gov. David Paterson was very generous in grading President Obamas first 100 days in office, giving him an A-plus. He was not asked to evaluate his own brief tenure at the helm of the state but he did draw some comparisons between himself and the president.

Paterson said both he and Obama were dealing with tremendous economic problems, enormous deficits and unwarranted attacks from critics.

We both have made decisions where others have presented no plans, he said during an interview at the Amsterdam News Harlem office last Friday. The governor stopped just a little short of slamming the barrage of press attacks on him. While stating that he was not at all as thick-skinned as some would presume, rather than nursing hurt feelings, Paterson seemed to be more aggravated by lack of recognition for some of the ground-breaking achievements his administration has garnered. To counter his detractors, the governor ticked off a number of accomplishments since he took office last March, including the vast reforming of the states healthcare system.

People say that Medicaid is the problem, but we cut $2.6 billion from Medicaid and reformed the whole system, he explained. And Governor Pataki never made a cut that came close to this. The best he could do was half of that. As the draconian cuts were being administered, Paterson said the welfare system had not been reformed in 18 years. These are people living on the very edge of survival, he said.

We increased these payments, and we increased food stamps by 40 percent. The governor was also proud of the student loan increases. Now students can get loans at half the cost the lenders are charging them, he said, and we got rid of the Rockefeller drug laws.

Was he completely satisfied with the reforms made on the longstanding drug laws? I think all the parties were happy; everyone seemed to be clear, Paterson replied. Now they have an opportunity to prosecute the real drug dealers and not those wandering around selling drugs to support a habit.

All of these measures, the governor asserted, were made with an economy in the worst shape since the Great Depression. Weve taken the stimulus money weve gotten from President Obama and were putting people back to work, he said.

Paterson seemed unperturbed that Laura Anglin, his budget director, was stepping down from her post. We have about four or five people in the office right now who are capable of managing the budget, he said. I am very happy for the work that she did and I wish her well in her next position.

Nor was there any apparent bother that a watchdog group is seeking an investigation of the release of private information from the governors office about Caroline Kennedy after she withdrew her name as a candidate to replace Hillary Clinton. The group asked once and then asked again, so Im not going to comment on it, he said.

To date, the Commission on Public Integrity, which has had the letter for two months, has made no decision about a possible inquiry into the matter.

On the crisis at the MTA, Paterson was more forthcoming, indicating that the state had borrowed itself into a budget crisis. And any place you go to cut has already been cut, he said. The taxi drivers have already suffered; the commuters face a 23 to 30 percent increase in fares. To remedy the situation, more than $1 billion is necessary, Paterson added.

I think people understand the budget deficit, Paterson continued, but they dont seem to understand what we mean by a shared sacrifice. It means we all have to sacrifice. He said he has taken a 10 percent cut in his salary, a reduction of $18,000. Im willing take the pain along with the rest of New Yorkers.

Paterson said he agreed with Mayor Michael Bloomberg in establishing bridge tolls. That would have made it fair, he said. I believe the Ravitch plan should have been adopted, which includes placing tolls on the bridges.

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