As a politician, Governor David Paterson doesn't exactly inspire fear. What's more, for the past month there's been a perception that the governor has been a ditherer -- that's he's been endlessly prolonging the process of selecting Hillary Clinton's Senate replacement.
But maybe the lesson to learn from Caroline Kennedy's withdrawal is that Paterson, like a certain other African-American politicians who's risen higher than a lot of people ever thought he would, is a tougher guy than he seems at first glance.
The New York Post said last night that the withdrawal was Kennedy's face-saving reaction to Paterson's decision not to choose her. The New York Times and other news organizations are going with Kennedy's official explanation, which is that she withdrew for personal reasons, after her
But it seems to me that Paterson's prolongation of the process, accompanied by contrary statements and confusing leaks, may have been a way of resisting the process of being Bigfooted -- not so much by Kennedy as by Mike Bloomberg, who thought he could push the accidental governor around.
A couple of weeks ago, in The Village Voice, Wayne Barrett asserted that Paterson appeared to be going along with Bloomberg's preference for Kennedy because he wants to avoid a gubernatorial race against the billionaire in 2010. Barrett argued that Bloomberg has strong-armed Paterson before: a few months ago, Paterson and his wife had "a largely unnoticed dinner at a Bronx restaurant" with the mayor and his girlfriend, after which key Paterson allies in the city supported Bloomberg's efforts to overturn the city's term-limits law -- even though a beneficiary of term limits might have been City Comptroller Bill Thompson ... who could have been the next black mayor.
So, if you believe Barrett, Paterson was in on the term-limits fix and was probably going to go along with the Kennedy fix. But if so, why didn't he just acquiesce sometime over the past several weeks?
It seems to me that he reached a limit of how much he was willing to let Bloomberg push him around. He may also have realized that while Bloomberg's political machine may be large and massive, it doesn't always run particularly smoothly. (How'd that third-party presidential thing work out for you, Bloomie?)
So whatever the proximate cause of Kennedy's withdrawal, I think Paterson's dithering allowed the process to play out until her candidacy began to seem problematic. I believe that was the point. Bloomberg loses. And Paterson actually gets to make his own choice.
UPDATE: The New York Observer says:
Even before the statement, the theories abounded. Among the insiders I talked to, they included the following: Paterson forced Kennedy's hand by leaking a false report to the Post that froze her and her consulting firm (and, apparently, his own staff); others speculated that something uncomfortable had been discovered about Kennedy's personal life that was about to be exposed, prompting her to withdraw under duress. In the absence of any information from official channels, it was hard to discount anything.
The former sounds right to me.