NY gov names lieutenant governor in Senate fight

NY Senate coupNew York Gov. David Paterson shocked Albany and risked a constitutional fight Wednesday by picking a crisis manager with Democratic credentials dating to the 1960s to fill the vacant lieutenant governor’s post and end a monthlong state Senate standoff.

But whether it will end what Paterson called the embarrassing spectacle over control of the chamber, or prolong it in the courts, was unknown in the unpredictable political saga.

Paterson chose 76-year-old Richard Ravitch, a former Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman, to be his lieutenant governor, who can preside over the Senate and break at least some tie votes.

In a televised address, the Democratic governor made the announcement and said he did it because the state is in crisis over the Senate’s 31-31 split in a power struggle now in its fifth week.

It had been widely assumed since the 1940s that a vacancy in the largely ceremonial lieutenant governor’s job could only be filled in a general election. But Paterson said an unorthodox approach is needed after he failed to force the Senate to act after calling 18 special sessions and denying their pay and expenses.

“Now, New Yorkers are starting to suffer,” Paterson said. “This is the right thing to do, I have no doubt of that.”

Pending a likely court battle, Paterson’s decision appears to give the Democratic Party he heads control of the Senate again, after the Republican-dominated coalition seized it June 8.

Ravitch intends to work for no compensation in the job, which normally pays $151,500 a year, said Peter Kauffmann, a spokesman for the governor.

Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos said Paterson violated the constitution and acted illegally and recklessly to serve his political prospects in 2010. Skelos said the appointment “will create even more chaos that will result in more lawsuits and more government gridlock.”

Ravitch is a partner in the law firm Ravitch Rice & Company LLC. He started his work in federal government in 1966 with the National Commission on Urban Problems under President Lyndon B. Johnson. In 1975, Gov. Hugh Carey put him in charge of the independent authority helping build low-income apartments that eventually became the Empire State Development Corp.

Paterson’s rare televised address was promoted through his 2010 campaign committee.

New York has been without a lieutenant governor since Paterson rose from the position to become governor in March 2008 after Eliot Spitzer resigned in disgrace.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.