Governor Paterson, who became New York's first black governor following the resignation of Eliot Spitzer, is lashing out at the press for describing him as an "accidental governor," implying in a speech that the term's frequent usage was motivated by racial bias.
In a speech at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's annual convention in Cincinnati, Mr. Paterson also suggested that the defeat of Senator Obama by Senator McCain in the presidential contest would be a victory for racism.
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Mr. Paterson's stark view of the presidential contest and his criticism of reporters was a sharp departure for a governor who was one of Senator Clinton's most enthusiastic backers until she conceded the Democratic primary in June, and whose relationship with the press has been marked by humor and ease.
The governor, who in Albany has made a point of not criticizing legislators or other officials, took a swing at the presumptive Republican nominee, saying Mr. McCain favors Bush administration policies that have left children hungry and "entire regions struggling for survival."
Thrust into office by a prostitution scandal that brought down Mr. Spitzer, Mr. Paterson, a former state legislator and lieutenant governor who was largely unknown in the state four months ago, has been eager to establish himself as a powerful leader in his own right as he prepares to run for office in 2010.
Yesterday, he let it be known that he no longer wants to be called accidental, saying the term has not been applied to white governors and presidents who took office under emergency circumstances.
"I am known as New York's accidental governor. I would like to point out a couple of facts: The two adjoining states to New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, have had three government changes in the last five years. None of those people were called the accidental governor," he said.
"Nobody called Teddy Roosevelt an accidental president. Nobody called Truman an accidental president. And nobody called LBJ an accidental anything. So why was this non-illustrious title held all of these years for me? I will leave the answer to all of you and the Freudians in the audience because I haven't had the chance to think about it," he said.
Mr. Paterson's claim appears to be contracted by news accounts and books about the figures he mentioned.
For instance, Richard Codey, who filled in as governor of New Jersey for James McGreevey after the latter resigned in a sex scandal, was described as an "accidental governor" by the Philadelphia Inquirer, the New York Observer (in a story headlined "the Return of an Accidental Governor), the Washington Post, the Star-Ledger (in several articles), the Associated Press, and the New York Times.
President Johnson was the subject of a 1967 book by Robert Sherrill called "The Accidental President." A 2001 book about President Bush and the 2000 election race by David Kaplan was titled, "The Accidental President: How 413 Lawyers, 9 Supreme Court Justices, and 5,963,110 Floridians (Give or Take a Few) Landed George W. Bush in the White House."
Mr. Paterson, who was a Clinton super-delegate and often joined her on the campaign trail, said the outcome of the November election would decide whether America moves beyond its legacy of slavery and segregation.
"Can America reject the crucible of race that has dictated and pervaded all of our history to embrace an African-American man who has the right polices for the next decade in this country?" he said.
He continued: "Can America go past the crippling way that we've shot ourselves in the foot over and over, denying opportunity to people who are bright, to people who are qualified, to people who are able because they didn't look like us, or they didn't come from where we came from, or they are from a different gender, or they are from the African continent? Can America push that away and find new leadership? We'll find out in the next few months what America can do."
A spokesman for the Obama campaign framed the election in less racial terms, saying in a statement that voters would make their decision based on "Senator Obama's vision for uniting our country, turning the page on President Bush's failed policies of the past, and bringing change we can believe in to Washington, D.C."
Mr. Paterson, while praising a speech Mr. McCain gave before the civil rights group on Wednesday, echoed the central attack strategy of the Obama campaign, which has sought to link the Republican to the policies of an unpopular president.
The governor said Mr. McCain "wants to support policies of an administration that has seen jobs go overseas and the national savings cut in half, thousands of companies out of business and going out of business, state budgets wildly out of balance, more children going without food and without shelter than any time in the last 10 years, entire regions struggling for survival."