The Empire (State Court) Strikes Back

By Steve Arthur, Vice President

Today’s 4-3 decision by New York’s high court giving Governor Paterson the authority to appoint Richard Ravitch as the state’s Lt. Governor surprised many in Albany after two lower courts had ruled the other way. The decision already has many in Albany and around the state wondering aloud whether the decision was influenced by the White House in its efforts to encourage Governor Paterson to step aside for Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to run for Governor in 2010.

First, some brief background. The issue before the court was how to interpret two conflicting state laws governing vacancies. One law gives the Governor appointment authority for positions where no other provision for filling a vacancy exists. The other law provides that the temporary president of the State Senate will perform all the duties of the Lt. Governor when a vacancy exists.

Legal scholars were divided on this issue, but that is unlikely to slow the debate over what role, if any, political considerations played in the decision. With the question over succession now resolved, it does allow President Obama to appoint Governor Paterson to a senior Administration position or an ambassadorship to avoid a likely bitter primary between Paterson and Andrew Cuomo for Governor next year.

However, there is a downside to that scenario for Democrats if President Obama continues to lose ground in the polls. New Yorkers will have a person who was not elected by the people, or even confirmed by the Legislature, serving as Governor and reminding voters of that decision on a daily basis. This will bring back questions of White House involvement in the decision that ultimately put Ravitch in the Governor’s Mansion and most likely become fodder for some campaign messaging.

When it comes to political intrigue, New York politics rarely disappoints. And it appears that this issue will continue that trend as both sides try to take advantage of this decision or its potential fallout.

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