The very first time I met then State Senator David Paterson it was under extremely ugly circumstances. It was in 1987 and I was in Albany NY, seeking the support of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus (as it was known then). I needed their support in my call to New York Governor Mario Cuomo for a special prosecutor to investigate a racially motivated attack on an African American man. He was attacked by a gang of white men who chased him down a Peekskill NY street with bats and pipes because he had a white girlfriend. Fortunately he escaped physical harm. Five days later, someone set his house on fire. Shortly after that, he was shot in the leg by an unknown assailant.
Around this time the Tawana Brawley case had broke and most of the politicians were rushing to that case and the TV cameras. I was scheduled on that day to meet with members of the caucus. After waiting in a big conference room for fifteen minutes and no lawmaker in sight, in walks this slightly built man in a suit that I thought looked too small. It was David Paterson. He walked in accompanied by one member of his staff. We greeted each other and both sat down.
I was there with the lawyer who was helping me and the family on this case, world renowned Attorney Lennox Hinds. I had mailed Sen. Paterson all newspaper clippings related to the case and a copy of the letter I sent to the governor.
I began by thanking the senator for finding time to meet with us. I then handed him another copy of the letter I had sent to the governor since I would be going over those issues with him. He politely handed the letter back to me and just said, "Thanks but I've memorized it."
It wasn't until later on that my attorney told me that David was legally blind! From my early interaction with him, I just didn't get it. Even more amazing was that he had in fact remembered every point I made to the governor in that letter. He would from that point on help me personally with several other issues over the years. He always took my calls, never was too busy to talk. And yet, he lived in Harlem. He didn't technically represent me. But that was to become David's legacy. He was called "the people's senator."
Over the years David Paterson stood up for the people and the grassroots. And if you know anything about New York media, you know it is very reactionary. Very hostile to Black people. And so David, long before he became governor, became an enemy of the local press. They had painted a bullseye on him. The fact is, David Paterson inherited a train wreck of a state. The press never gave him a fair deal. The same press that would draw apes depicting Black people, relentlessly tried to destroy and discredit him.
Having said that I must also say that we as a nation tend to think in terms of "right and wrong." Sometimes there is "a wrong and a wrong." I think that David Paterson fell victim to what most other politicians who are in office too long succumb to; the notion of preferential treatment. The idea that they deserve things the rest of us don't. The worse of our public officials become corrupt. The best of them lose perspective.
This domestic violence case was really the last straw for me and many others. As hard as I try, I just don't see any good reason for the state police or the governor to have had contact with this poor woman. Still, David deserves the benefit of the doubt on this. I would say wait for Cuomo's investigation but guess what? I used to work for the now State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and I can tell you this in no uncertain terms- Cuomo will cut Paterson's throat and then go get ice cream.
New Yorkers have really lost on this deal. Paterson is brilliant and given a fair chance, could have got New York back on track. He was a great legislature and his tenure as governor won't change that. Then again, I never anticipated David falling on his own sword.