Monday, March 17, 2008


My column appearing in this week's papers....

By Bob Confer

When Eliot Spitzer was elected to office in 2006 by a record-setting 69% of the vote, his massive victory was declared a mandate of the people. The voters wanted serious change, someone who would come into Albany and clean-up all the dirt. Here it is, not even a year and a half later, and the man who fed that incredible optimism has proven to be no better than the rest and, actually, dirtier than most. Spitzer has left office with a reign that will be recognized as the greatest political letdown in the history of the State.

The disappointed people of New York are now on the emotional rebound, with folks from Niagara Falls to Long Island focusing a new and unbridled sense of optimism upon the man who now takes the reigns of our state, David Paterson. Elected officials and the press have trumped up his status, appropriately citing his successes against adversity (his blindness) while exaggerating his executive wherewithal.

It’s unfortunate that we can’t learn from our mistakes. Optimism can be a good thing, but too much of it can blind reality (as was the case with Spitzer). Politicians, especially those with the absolute power of executive branch, need to be looked at with a discerning eye. A lifelong politician like David Paterson has a body of work that can be analyzed to the nth degree. It hasn’t been, probably because all of the media attention has been trained on Spitzer’s adultery and law breaking. So, we are led into this new era believing that Paterson is absolutely wonderful and without flaw.

Truthfully, he is just as his predecessor was and like many of his Albany peers, a man with flaws and a symbol of what’s wrong in the State Capital. Paterson comes into office with some very timely and damning baggage: In an order issued one month ago by US District Court Judge Norman Mordue, a lawsuit against New York State is allowed to progress to trial because substantial material fact was provided by the plaintiff, Joseph Maioriello, who believes that he was fired by the Senate (specifically Patterson’s office) based solely on race.

For 26 years Maioriello – who is white - was an at-will employee of the Assembly and Senate, serving as a photographer and cable television coordinator. Reporting to specific elected officials as part of their support staff, he had to re-submit his application following the completion of every two-year election cycle. A good employee, he was rewarded with constant contract renewals.

In March of 2003, three months into a post-election legislative cycle, Maioriello was unceremoniously terminated. This coincided with Paterson’s rise to prominence as the Senate Minority leader. Once he took control of the Democratic caucus Paterson decided to make some changes to the support staff, which included the dismissal of Maioriello and replacing him with a black photographer.

Stunned, Maioriello inquired about his job loss and was told by one of his supervisors that it was due to poor job performance. Considering that his quality of work was never called into question and there was no evidence of any negative reports such as unsatisfactory performance appraisals or write-ups, he pressed the issue even further, going to Paterson’s chief deputy, John McPadden. According to court records, Maioriello said the conversation progressed as follows:

McPadden: "Senator Paterson is relieving you of your duties. There are certain minority senators…people of color…who want to replace you…by another photographer."

Maioriello: "Why?"

McPadden: "You know who it is. They want to replace you with a minority photographer. A black photographer"

Maioriello: "Why?"

McPadden: "You got to remember who Senator Paterson is. Senator Paterson is black."

Highlighting the plaintiff’s claim is evidence that the black photographer received preferential treatment under Paterson’s watch. In his 26th year of service, Maioriello was paid $34,206. Upon taking that same role, his replacement, El-Wise Noisette, was paid $48,000.

McPadden denies any wrongdoing. So, does our new Governor. As a matter of fact, Paterson said that given his visual impairment he would not know if a photographer was black or white. Half in jest, half in truth, his comment did not carry weight with the judge.

So, now this goes on to trial, one the jury of which will probably decide in Maioriello’s favor based upon this and other significant amounts of evidence. The outcome will not be a pittance, either: Maioriello is seeking $1.5 million in damages.

Temper your enthusiasm for Paterson - a self-proclaimed "bomb thrower" – with this bombshell. It is one of many stories bound to come out in the coming months. He’s not the choir boy that we are supposed to believe he is….just like the guy before him.