New York`s New Governor Legally Blind
March 13, 2008, 02:56 PM
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Here`s some interesting material on David L. Paterson, who apparently will be moving up to the governor`s mansion in Albany:

Though his sight is limited, Lt. Gov. David Paterson walks the halls of the Capitol unaided. He recognizes people at conversational distance and can memorize whole speeches. He has played basketball, run a marathon, and survived 22 years in the backbiting culture of the state Capitol with a reputation as a man more apt to reach for an olive branch than a baseball bat.

If Spitzer resigns after being snared in a prostitution scandal, the biggest changes in a Paterson administration would probably revolve around style.

"He`s a guy who had two handicaps: his blindness and his race. And he never made excuses for it," said civil rights leader Al Sharpton, a longtime friend. "He`s the guy who has said, `I have been in a minority group and a minority within a minority group. And I can make it, so don`t give me no excuses.`"

Paterson, 53, is the son of former state Sen. Basil Paterson, a member of the storied "Harlem Clubhouse" that includes fellow Democrats U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel and former New York City Mayor David Dinkins. The elder Paterson was the first in the family to run for lieutenant governor in 1970. He lost, but later became New York`s first black secretary of state.

David Paterson lost sight in his left eye and much of the sight in his right eye after an infection as an infant. Refusal to bow to his handicap came early. When New York City schools refused to let him attend mainstream classes, his parents established residency on Long Island, where they found a school that would let him go to regular classes.

"He was in the plays and on the stage, and required no assistance in maneuvering around stage and on the playground," said Dr. Casmiro Liotta, Paterson`s former principal at the Fulton School.

Assemblyman Keith Wright, an old Harlem friend, remembers Paterson playing basketball and generally acting just like the other kids in the neighborhood. In 1999, Paterson completed the New York City Marathon.

After earning degrees from Columbia University and Hofstra Law School, he worked for the Queens district attorney`s office and was elected to the state Senate in 1985 at the age of 31. He built a reputation for working hard in a place where not everyone does.

Though he can read for brief periods, Paterson usually has aides read to him. He also has developed the ability to remember entire speeches and policy arcana. State Sen. Neil Breslin recalled that he told Paterson his cell phone number once and he memorized it.

"He has one of the finest memories of anyone I`ve known," Breslin said.

Not surprisingly, considering that he can`t really read for long periods of time, he failed the N.Y. Bar Exam. But he has to be pretty crafty to get where he`s gotten. Especially because he can`t really see small details of people`s faces, like whether they`re smiling sincerely or falsely when they promise to support you in some political deal. I bet he has remarkable voice analysis abilities.

And I bet he spends a lot of time talking to people. Being Lt. Governor can be a pretty undesirable position (I`ve known a former NY Lt. Gov. who must not have had terribly stiff competition), but perhaps Mr. Paterson had heard some hints that energetic young Mr. Spitzer just might not serve out his term.

The other blind politician I`ve heard about in recent years was British Labour Home Secretary David Blunkett, whose career was derailed by sexual and financial scandals.