Paterson: I’m in Charge Even When Out of New York


patersonWho’s in charge of New York state?
After a whirlwind of court challenges, New York Gov. David Paterson finally appointed his own lieutenant governor in July. On days like yesterday, when Paterson left the state, the state constitution says the lieutenant governor is in charge.

But the governor’s office disagrees. Paterson claims a 1991 federal court decision in Missouri gives him┬áthe authority to remain in power even when he’s out of state, contrary to the policy of most past governors.

It’s called the effective absence rule, and officials said it means the governor is not considered absent from the state if he is reachable and in constant communication with his office. New York isn’t bound by a federal court ruling in Missouri, but it would be the governor’s primary argument should he need to defend a legal challenge.

“The governor is not effectively absent and therefore remains in charge,” spokeswoman Marissa Shorenstein said. “The constitution was written before the time of electronic communication.”

The state constitution says the lieutenant governor will act as governor: “In case the governor is impeached, is absent from the state or is otherwise unable to discharge the powers and duties of the office of governor.”

“Technically, by the wording of the state constitution, it’s not clear,” said Patricia Salkin, associate dean of Albany Law School’s Government Law Center.

Salkin said the issue simply hasn’t been tested in the courts yet. She noted that the governor didn’t risk leaving the state during a monthlong Senate coup when he didn’t have a lieutenant governor. That’s because the issue of succession remains unclear and some feared that a coalition that seized power could put someone else in charge of the state the moment Paterson left town.

“When there is no lieutenant governor, and when it’s somebody from the legislature who is next in line — who may not have the same collaborative agenda with the governor — the governor chose not to lead the state because nobody knows,” Salkin said.

When Paterson filled the lieutenant governor spot, it was a shock in Albany where — for decades — the constitution was read as prohibiting anyone but the voters in a gubernatorial election to fill the No. 2 job.

The Senate’s Republican minority fought the appointment of Richard Ravitch, the former head of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, as lieutenant governor. They said the appointment is unconstitutional.

Ravitch’s appointment is still being debated in court after the Appellate Division ruled that Ravitch can serve as New York’s lieutenant governor during the legal dispute but can’t preside over the Senate. More court arguments are set for Wednesday.

{Cabin Updates/Noam Newscenter}