David A. Paterson became the state's first black governor Monday and used his inaugural address to urge his former colleagues in the Legislature to work with him in restoring trust in state government and resolving New York's worsening fiscal problems.
Sworn in shortly after 1 p.m., an hour after the disgraced Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer formally resigned, the Harlem Democrat told an assortment of the state's political elite of his desire for detente at the Capitol -- a missing commodity for much of the last year.
"Let us grab the unusual opportunities that circumstance has handed us today and put personal politics, party advantage and power struggles aside in favor of service, in the interests of the people," Paterson told hundreds of Republicans and Democrats in the Assembly Chamber after the oath of office was administered by New York State Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye.
"What we are going to do from now on is what we always should have done -- we're going to work together," said Paterson, who served in the State Senate for two decades before becoming Spitzer's lieutenant governor 15 months ago.
The ascendancy of Paterson, the state's 55th governor, came almost exactly a week after news broke of Spitzer's involvement as a patron of a high-priced prostitution ring. Spitzer, who has remained mostly in seclusion since announcing his resignation last week, could face federal criminal charges.
Last week's shock at the Capitol gave way to a new sense of optimism. In Paterson, lawmakers are getting someone they call a friend, a term few of them ever used in characterizing Spitzer, who had a series of well-known feuds with the Legislature.
"Let's face it: It's not a secret there's been tension around here for months and months and months," said Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno, a Rensselaer County Republican who fought bitterly with Spitzer and says he is tight with Paterson.
"There's joy," Bruno said Monday. "It's like a new day."
Paterson, 53, was joined by his wife, Michelle Paige Paterson, two children and parents on the Assembly rostrum for his swearing-in ceremony. He sought to use the occasion as a way to showcase his bipartisan outreach abilities, touch on the major fiscal problems facing the state and show New Yorkers that the Capitol has recovered from the events of the last week.
Paterson, elected with Spitzer in 2006, is still a relative unknown across the state, a reality he addressed.
"Let me reintroduce myself: I am David Paterson, and I am the governor of New York State," he said after talking of confronting prejudice as an African-American and working to overcome being legally blind.
Paterson mentioned upstate only once and confined his introductions of local government officials to the current and former mayors of New York City, and he asked lawmakers in his 26-minute speech to back his efforts to "adjust" the proposed state budget. He did not elaborate, but state revenues are falling, and fiscal observers say New York cannot afford to have its budget grow at the 5.1 percent level Spitzer proposed.
State budget negotiations begin in earnest today with public meetings by legislative panels.
State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, who enjoyed his own boisterous reception from lawmakers before Paterson spoke, urged his former colleagues to join the new governor's call to rethink budget plans.
"The times are getting worse before they get better," DiNapoli said. "It means prudence should be the byword."
The historic nature of the day, in which Paterson got rave reviews from Democrats and Republicans alike for the delivery and content of his speech, drew a who's who of politicians.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton broke away from the presidential campaign trail to attend. "I'm very honored to be here, and I wouldn't be anywhere else," she said.
"In terms of moving forward and setting a new tone, everybody is ready to do that," said Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo, who issued a scathing report last summer about the Spitzer administration's smear campaign against Bruno.
Paterson begins a new administration as a relatively blank slate. As Spitzer's running mate, he made no personal campaign pledges. As the state's March 31 budget-adoption deadline looms, he talked of addressing the state's worsening fiscal problems but also noted how he wanted to expand health insurance coverage for New Yorkers, revitalize the "crumbling" upstate economy, slow property tax increases and improve public education -- all of which are expensive.
The new governor tried to depict a government getting back to work after the soap opera atmosphere of the last week.
"I will work as hard as I can; it's the only thing I can do," he said afterward in the Capitol's ornate War Room.
By day's end, he had signed five bills into law, including what sponsors called minor amendments to a law permitting the City of Niagara Falls to build a new courthouse and Police Headquarters.
Paterson has a steep learning curve in confronting issues such as the budget. "I don't envy him. He's walking into a tough situation,'' said Assemblywoman Francine DelMonte, a Niagara Falls Democrat.
But DelMonte and others say Paterson enters office in a stronger position than Spitzer did 15 months ago because of his 20 years serving in the Capitol and his consensus-building outlook.
"I think the respect Gov. Paterson exhibited today to everyone is exactly what is needed to get us moving forward," said former Gov. George E. Pataki.
Paterson takes office as an unabashed liberal. He has sponsored a slew of left-leaning measures and has upset conservatives with his social stances. But one of his chief allies, the Rev. Al Sharpton, said Paterson is considered conservative in his generation of New York black leaders. He said Paterson would always want to hear the police's side in alleged brutality cases and noted how Paterson took on Harlem's black leaders in 2006 when they were backing Leecia R. Eve, daughter of former Assembly Deputy Speaker Arthur O. Eve, as Spitzer's running mate.
Sharpton said Paterson did not rise to where he is by being black or legally blind, or ever use those as excuses for obstacles in the past.
"He did it by excelling and being competent," Sharpton said, calling Paterson the best person to step in and tackle the "moral gap and economic gap" in New York.
Paterson sprinkled his address with humility and his trademark humor, recalling how Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, had to save Paterson during Spitzer's State of the State speech in January from hitting the rostrum's gavel down on a glass. With a deadpan and near-perfect Silver imitation, Paterson said Silver told him, "I will not allow you to turn the State of the State into a Jewish wedding."
But mostly, Paterson's due diligence in the 26 minutes was about showing a new governor on the job.
"Today is Monday. There is work to be done," he said. "There is trust that needs to be restored. There are issues that need to be addressed."e-mail: email@example.com