WASHINGTON – Former New York Gov. David Paterson says Kirsten Gillibrand was not his first choice to replace Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Senate after Clinton was confirmed as secretary of state.
Paterson wanted to name himself to the seat.
"My dream was to be a U.S. senator,'' Paterson said. "And this was the Bobby Kennedy seat, and he was like my hero.''
He said that when Clinton, then still a senator, announ
ced she was running for president, then-New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer gave Paterson "the wink'' that he would be appointed to Clinton's seat if she won.
Paterson's hopes were dashed, however, when Barack Obama won the Democratic nomination.
But after Obama was elected and asked Clinton to serve as his secretary of state, Paterson said, "I thought my Senate dream is back. And this time I get to make the dream the way I want to.''
By that time, Spitzer had resigned in disgrace and Paterson had stepped up from lieutenant governor to replace him.
But Paterson realized that naming himself to replace Clinton would create a major dilemma. He didn't have a lieutenant governor, so he would be replaced as governor by Malcolm Smith, the state Senate's majority leader and temporary president. Under the state constitution, Smith could serve only as acting governor and could be replaced by a majority vote of the state Senate.
Democrats held only a two-vote majority in the state Senate at the time, making it relatively easy for lawmakers to replace an acting governor who didn't curry favor with them.
"I thought the process of replacing me would be corrupt and it would rightly be blamed on me,'' Paterson said.
In fact, leadership of the state Senate changed in June 2009, when two Democrats switched allegiance.
Five senators have been convicted of corruption charges since then, and two more were indicted on corruption charges last year. They are Malcolm Smith and John Sampson, who replaced Smith as Democratic Leader after the coup.
Paterson said naming himself as Clinton's replacement "would have been one of the absolute worst decisions because it would have sent the leadership of the state into a quagmire — and a corrupt quagmire.''
Choosing Gillibrand, then a House member representing New York's 20th District, offered Paterson the chance to replace Clinton with another woman. Gillibrand also represented an upstate district in a statewide delegation dominated by downstate residents, and she was relatively young and would be able to build seniority and clout in the Senate over time.
Two other possibilities were Caroline Kennedy, daughter of the late President John F. Kennedy, and Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-Manhattan. But they lived in New York City.
Just as importantly, Paterson said, Gillibrand's style "of fighting for people who don't have a voice" showed she was more aligned with his own style than any of the other candidates he interviewed.
"That's how I was my whole career,'' he said.