ALBANY – Former Gov. David A. Paterson stood in the mural-ceilinged War Room of the state Capitol on Wednesday, just down the hall from the governor’s office. With a crowd of legislators gathered before him, he approached a lectern bearing the state seal.
“I told you all I would be back,” Mr. Paterson deadpanned.
Mr. Paterson left office at the end of 2010, but he was once again front and center in Albany on Wednesday, traveling here to be honored by his successor as part of a celebration of Black History Month.
So there Mr. Paterson stood, walking into the War Room with his onetime bitter rival, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who was widely expected to mount a Democratic primary challenge if Mr. Paterson, who automatically became governor when Eliot Spitzer resigned, had not abandoned his bid to be elected to a full term.
Mr. Paterson and Mr. Cuomo ascended the dais together, Mr. Paterson placing his right hand on Mr. Cuomo’s back. Mr. Cuomo’s counsel, Mylan L. Denerstein, welcomed Mr. Paterson by lavishing praise on his fiscal stewardship, saying, “His foresight helped to put our state on a more stable financial ground today.”
Then Mr. Cuomo approached the lectern, listed his predecessors’ firsts – first black legislative leader, first black lieutenant governor, first black governor – and called him his friend.
In a brief speech, Mr. Paterson was ebullient. He praised Mr. Cuomo for increasing participation by minority-owned businesses in state contracting, and then moved on to teasing the other official honored at the event, H. Carl McCall. (Mr. McCall, the chairman of the board of trustees for the State University system, is another former Cuomo rival: he bested Mr. Cuomo for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2002.)
The event celebrated the unveiling of an exhibition at the Capitol for Black History Month that features profiles of 29 distinguished black New Yorkers – including Mr. McCall and Mr. Paterson, whose write-up credited him with guiding the state through a recession and managing its growing budget shortfalls.
Speaking to reporters after the ceremony, Mr. Paterson, who now hosts a radio program on WOR-AM (710), acknowledged that there were stumbles during his administration and said it was “very difficult for me to come into office with the lack of preparation that I had.”
But he nonetheless offered a warm recollection of his time as chief executive, describing the job as “an honor that you don’t really feel because when you’re in the process, it’s just getting up and going to work.”
“But when you have a few months to reflect about it,” Mr. Paterson added, “I can’t think of a better way to have spent my time.”
Asked what he missed most about Albany, he cited the Executive Mansion, saying, “Entertaining people there and having people visit it was very exciting.” He would not say what he missed least.
While Mr. Paterson was visiting, Mr. Cuomo gave him a tour of the newly refurbished Hall of Governors, the corridor that houses the governor’s offices and whose walls are filled with portraits of past governors. Mr. Paterson said Mr. Cuomo asked him when he would sit for a portrait; Mr. Paterson told reporters that he would eventually get around to it.
True to form, Mr. Paterson added, “I thought they could take an old picture from one of the tabloid newspapers and put that up there.”