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Paterson Is Sworn In as Governor

ALBANY — Lt. Gov. David A. Paterson ascended to New York’s highest office on Monday, pledging civility and unity in government to an ecstatic and palpably relieved gathering of state lawmakers and officials.

Mr. Paterson was sworn in as the state’s 55th governor almost exactly a week after revelations emerged that his predecessor, Gov. Eliot Spitzer, had patronized a prostitute and faced federal investigation.

In a relatively brief speech lasting about half an hour, Mr. Paterson offered soothing rhetoric to an audience that clearly ached to move beyond what has been an unusually sordid ordeal even for Albany, a capital well-acquainted with political scandal.

Speaking to a joint session of the state Assembly and Senate, with senior officials from at least three states in attendance, Mr. Paterson alluded briefly to the Mr. Spitzer’s difficulties over the past year in working with the Democratic-controlled Assembly and Republican-controlled state Senate.

“What we are going to do from now on is what we always should have done: We are going to work together, Mr. Paterson said. “With conviction in our brains and compassion in our hearts and the love for New York on our sleeves, we will dedicate ourselves to principle but always maintain the ability to listen.”

But Mr. Paterson’s inaugural remarks were most striking for what was absent from them.

In a speech with so many nods to other elected officials that even a former lieutenant governor made the cut, Mr. Paterson made no mention of Mr. Spitzer, who plucked him from virtual obscurity to join the ticket for statewide office in 2006, and whose powerful and at times overbearing personality were the central fact of political life here for nearly a year and a half.

Mr. Paterson alluded only vaguely to Mr. Spitzer’s resignation, noting that New York had experienced “a very difficult week.” And though he and his staff have sent signals in recent years that continuity would be a key theme of the transition between administrations, Mr. Paterson made no suggestion that the Mr. Spitzer’s core agenda items deserved to survive even if the former governor’s career did not.

Indeed, Mr. Paterson offered almost no specific policy proposals or promises, though an aide said that the new governor would lay out a more a specific agenda in the days ahead. He hewed closely to the theme of partnership, describing himself as Brooklyn-born, Long-Island-educated, and Harlem-residing, to rousing cheers from elected officials who hailed from each of those areas.

Unlike Mr. Spitzer, who in his inaugural address fifteen months ago fired shot after shot across the bow of Albany’s political establishment, Mr. Paterson warmly embraced the capital’s two other major powers, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno.

“Let us grab the unusual opportunities that circumstance has handed us today and put personal politics, party advantage and power struggles aside, in favor of service, in the interests of the people,” Mr. Paterson said.

Only when his speech turned to the worsening economic downturn and its likely effect on the state budget gap did Mr. Paterson offer a hint of challenge.

“We are looking at an economy that is reeling and I must say to all of you in government and all of you in business that you must meet with me in the next couple of weeks and adjust our budget accordingly,” Mr. Paterson said, suggesting that budget austerity may be needed.

Mr. Paterson, the state’s first blind governor as well as the first black one, also nodded to the historic nature of his swearing-in.

“I have confronted the prejudice of race, and challenged the issues of my own disability,” he said. “I have served in government for over two decades. I stand willing and able to lead this state to a brighter future and a better tomorrow.”

In a news conference following the address, Mr. Bruno seemed open to a détente.

“I think it’s great relief,” said Mr. Bruno, the state’s top Republican. “It’s like a new day. The sun is shining.”

At times, the event felt more like something of a coronation for Mr. Paterson, the scion of a Harlem political fraternity that remains powerful and well-connected in New York politics. His father, Basil A. Paterson, a former state senator and secretary of state, stood behind Mr. Paterson when he first ascended the dais, as did his mother, his wife, and his two children. They remained there as Mr. Paterson, a well-liked veteran of Albany, was greeted by exultant cheers and whistles, and a lengthy standing ovation.

“It’s a great day for New York, and for those of us from Harlem, it’s an even greater day,” said Senator Bill Perkins, a Democratic senator from Manhattan, who replaced Mr. Paterson when he was elected lieutenant governor.

New York’s United States senators, Charles E. Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton, were in attendance, along with Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, former New York governors Hugh L. Carey and George E. Pataki, and the current governors of New Jersey, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.

An initial draft of Mr. Paterson’s speech was prepared by aides, his advisers said, and he spent significant time editing, memorizing, and practicing the final speech.

Whereas Mr. Spitzer favored a sermon-on-the-mount style of oratory, Mr. Paterson at times sounded more like the announcer at a Las Vegas boxing match. At least a third of his speech was devoted to name-checking the legislative leaders and other officials in attendance, each of whom was introduced with a flourish and a backslapping joke.

Praising Mr. Bruno, for example, Mr. Paterson recalled how the Senate leader had once invited him to his upstate horse farm for dinner.

“I’ll go,” Mr. Paterson recalled replying. “But I’m going to take my taster with me.”

Other Senate Republicans, following Mr. Bruno’s lead, appeared receptive to Mr. Paterson’s overtures, at least for now. Asked whether Senate Republicans would give Mr. Paterson any breathing room on contentious matters like the state budget, John J. Bonacic, an upstate Republican, smiled broadly.

“For a day,” he promised.

In tone and affect, Mr. Paterson’s speech seemed did not really seemed to be aimed at the broader public. Rather, it felt more narrowly addressed to the lawmakers gathered before him, whom he has known for years as a colleague and peer, but must now lead as governor.

“Let me reintroduce myself,” he said at one moment, hinting at the transformation-in-progress. “I am David Paterson, and I am the governor of New York State.”

Exactly what kind of governor remains to be seen, especially in those areas where Mr. Spitzer made his presence most felt. Some Democrats who support the procedural reforms that Mr. Spitzer advocated — greater government transparency and lower campaign finance limits — appeared hopeful on Monday that the cause of Albany reform would escape the fate of its most visible champion.

“This was not a scandal about the politics and ideology of the Spitzer administration. It’s a personal scandal,” said Senator Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat. “We have a new governor, not a new government.”

Privately, some Democrats were already thinking beyond the budget, to this fall’s elections, where control of the State Senate, the final bastion of Republican power in New York, will be at stake.

Entering office last year with overwhelming popularity, Mr. Spitzer was expected to be the anchor of his party’s efforts to retake the Senate. Over the last year and a half, his fund-raising and political support helped the Democratic minority win two more Senate seats in special elections.

Mr. Paterson is not untested in such matters. Despite his friendship with Mr. Bruno, Mr. Paterson whittled four seats from the Republican majority during his years as Senate minority leader. But his fund-raising ability and skills as a statewide political leader are not well-tested, as senior Democratic officials acknowledged Monday.

“There’s no question he had resources available both personally and in his ability to tap,” said Representative Joseph Crowley, a Democrat and leader of the Queens county party. “But there will be others to fill those voids, I think. David, being one of them, will have to step up in that regard, to ensure that the money that is needed will be raised and emphasis is put where it is needed.”

SOURCE: The New York Times