To hear David Paterson tell it, his first year in office has been pretty darn good: He identified the state's fiscal problems early on, brought legislators into the fold and kept the budget balanced in terrible times through a series of steps.
So why does everything seem to be crashing down around him? Why are his fellow Democrats openly stewing about his administration and how come so many are talking of Paterson in the past tense when it comes to his re-election effort next year?
For starters, his critics say, is a healthy dose of indecision. They talk of his penchant for trying to make too many people happy. He will, for instance, talk tough on the budget and need for cuts and pain. But then, when confronted by a real live New Yorker -- a voter -- he backs away or waffles.
It's been a rollicking year, indeed. His supporters say the year was not fair to him: he took over in a crisis -- the resignation of the disgraced Eliot Spitzer -- and had to deal with going from a job making no decisions, as lieutenant governor, to suddenly being the chief executive of a government with more than 200,000 workers and more than $120 billion in its budget.
Moreover, they say the governor has not had a chance, because of the fiscal crisis, to actually implement a real policy direction; instead, his time has been spent moving from one fiscal crisis to the next.
Detractors say he flips and flops, though. At first, he defended his former top aide, Charles O'Byrne, for being a tax evader. Then, he helped him out the door. Recently, he welcomed him back as a campaign adviser and, Democrats say, off-budget adviser to help him through his troubles at the Capitol.
But before each new poll showing him slipping in the eyes of New Yorkers, another thorny problem emerges that does nothing for his image. He talked of belt-tightening, yet there were stories about expensive rug purchases at the governor's mansion and pricey taxpayer-funded hotel rooms for Paterson to attend President Obama's inauguration. (He recently said his campaign would fund the trip instead).
And, of course, there was the debacle over his selection process to pick a replacement for Hillary Clinton in the U.S. Senate, which ended with anonymous personal attacks from someone close to Paterson on Caroline Kennedy, once the front-runner, after she dropped out. This week, Paterson called the whole process "a circus" and said he should not have dragged out his selection.
Now comes word again of another example of what Paterson says in public may not really be reality. Consider the "hard" hiring freeze Paterson put into effect last summer. In appearances around the state, he talks of the freeze as an example of his fiscal discipline and the public is led to believe few, if any, state jobs are being filled during these tough times.
Yet, since October, more than 8,000 people have been added to the state work force. (A look by the Buffalo News last fall examining hiring since the freeze kicked in last July found 31,000 people added to the state's job ranks).
Such a term -- "hard" -- sounds like they really mean business, and if you read the budget bulletins sent to state agencies, the rhetoric is tough and pointed: every hire must go through the ringer and be justified in any number of ways.
But, since this is Albany, there are loopholes galore. For starters, huge areas of state government are not even covered by the freeze: the state university system, Legislature and court system for starters. About 70 percent of the hiring since October has been in those kinds of agencies.
Then there are, of course, exceptions for jobs involving public safety and health, like state troopers and prison guards and nurses at psychiatric centers and snowplow operators. Finally, there are the positions deemed crucial for the running of state agencies, a catch-all provision that can be anything from public relations people to ski school instructors to a tree pruner at the transportation department.
In the end, the explanations sound plausible. But it seems as though, considering that nearly 40,000 people have joined state agencies since a hiring freeze was announced, perhaps a different term might be used.
-- Tom Precious