The First Blind Governor Speaks

After he was sworn in as Governor of New York on March 17, David A. Paterson spoke to a joint session of the state legislature in Albany. He didn’t read it off a teleprompter. I have a pretty good idea what he had to do to craft that speech in memory and pull it out again. The moment was his, and it makes me very proud.

Bob Herbert tells a story in the NYT about Paterson’s earliest political motivations. You have to believe it informed his speech in Albany:

David, who will be sworn in on Monday, is legally blind. He would scoot up close to the television as a child and watch avidly. He became fascinated with politics at age 6 when his favorite shows were pre-empted for coverage of the political conventions that nominated Jack Kennedy and Richard Nixon.

“I don’t know why,” he said, “but I got this impression that Nixon would win. I knew my dad was voting for Kennedy, so I was for him. But I don’t think I could have told you the difference between a Democrat and a Republican. When Kennedy won, I remember I was real happy and I wanted to watch him speak.

“Then I saw the civil rights movement. I was still only 7 or 8. I watched the situation in Birmingham with the police dogs and the fire hoses. And it was very upsetting because there were kids, you know, my age. And I knew somehow that there was a connection between that movement and elective office.

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3 Responses to The First Blind Governor Speaks

  1. Mark Willis says:

    “Wait a minute, unhitch that wagon!” I admit, that’s what I was thinking a day or so after this speech when David Paterson held a news conference to confess his extramarital affairs. I don’t have a problem with the affairs, but the news conference seemed over the top. Then I read John Ridley’s blog post about it:

    “What do I like about the guy? First day on the job, he admits to having an affair. Second day on the job, he admits to having a number of affairs. Not that I approve of sleeping with other women. Per se. But people are always carping about politicians not being honest and here is Paterson, paint still drying on his office door, throwing out a little TMI.

    “And let’s not forget that Paterson is legally blind. I only bring that up because Sheri Shepherd — the “blonde” black girl on ABC’s “The View” — joked (I think she was joking) that Paterson “can’t see to cheat.” Know what? I’m sick of people underestimating the otherly abled! Truth is they can screw around just as well as people with two good eyes!”

    Otherly speaking, amen, brother!

  2. Mark Willis says:

    For the record, here is an excerpt from the NYT story on March 19:

    “”The news conference capped an astonishing 24 hours that began with Ms. Paterson holding the Bible as her husband was sworn in before an ebullient audience of lawmakers in the Assembly chamber as dignitaries, including Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and prominent black politicians, looked on.

    “Just after the swearing-in, while Mr. Paterson’s supporters were still celebrating, the new administration was plunged into its first crisis, as a Daily News columnist inquired about a past affair and Mr. Paterson and his mostly untested advisers debated how to handle the matter.

    “The governor and his wife told the columnist that they had each strayed during the marriage, and then Ms. Paterson, an executive at the Health Insurance Plan of New York, canceled a morning appearance in Manhattan and came to the capital to meet the crush of reporters.”

  3. Mark Willis says:

    Here’s another one for the record. The NYT ran this correction to Steve Kuusisto’s op-ed:

    “An article on the Op-Ed page on Friday, about blindness, misidentified the nation’s first legally blind governor. He was Bob Cowley Riley, who was governor of Arkansas for 11 days in 1975; David Paterson is not the first.”

    If Paterson lasts longer than 11 days, we’ll call that a technicality. But it does raise an interesting historical point: in the 19th century, before blindness was defined by statute, there probably were governors who would be labeled “legally blind” by today’s standards. They probably had affairs, too, by another name.

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