Obama, New York Governor Meet Amidst Political Tension

Obama calls Paterson a "wonderful man," but White House wants him to quit race.

ByJake Tapper, Karen Travers and Stephanie Z. Smith
September 21, 2009, 3:12 PM

Sept. 21, 2009— -- It seemed awkward in Albany, as President Obama was greeted on the tarmac by New York Gov. David Paterson, whom the White House has been trying to convince to drop out of the governor's race next year given his abysmal poll numbers.

The two attempted an uncomfortable hug of some sort, though later at a rope line in Troy, the president's smile vanished when he once again was forced to greet Paterson.

At the event in Troy, Obama praised Paterson's heart -- calling him a "wonderful man" -- but he beamed at Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and effusively praised the work of the man whom many Democrats would like to see pursue the governor's mansion next year instead of Paterson.

Obama's acknowledgement of Paterson was far from a ringing endorsement.

"First of all, wonderful man, the governor of the great state of New York, David Paterson is in the house," the president said, keeping his head down and his eyes on his notes, at Hudson Valley Community College.

Obama has grave concerns that Paterson cannot win in 2010, and the White House has taken the unusual step of conveying those concerns to the governor himself, several knowledgeable Democrats told ABC News.

Obama has not personally spoken with the governor about the race, "but it's no secret that Democrats in New York are very concerned about the situation and those concerns have been conveyed in an appropriate way," a source said.

The conveying of those concerns was first reported Saturday night by the New York Times.

"No one has ordered him out of the race," the source said. "Nor does anyone have the authority to. He has to look at his situation and make the decision that he thinks is right for himself, the party and the state."

Paterson Pushes Forward

On Sunday, Paterson said he is going forward with his re-election campaign.

"I'm still running for governor. I'm running for governor," Paterson said at a parade in Harlem.

Asked how he felt about the president getting involved, Paterson said he would not comment on or discuss confidential conversations.

A Marist poll last week indicates that 70 percent of voters in the Empire State -- and 65 percent of Democrats -- don't want Paterson, the former lieutenant governor who took over when Eliot Spitzer resigned last year amid a scandal about him patronizing prostitutes, to run next year.

White House political director Patrick Gaspard has been internally leading the charge within the administration to try to convince Paterson to not seek election to a full four-year term next November, according to Democratic sources.

Last week, Gaspard met with the governor to make the case that he shouldn't seek re-election. That meeting took place in New York at Paterson's campaign headquarters Monday, the same day Obama was on Wall Street speaking on regulatory reform.

Three days later, Paterson publicly named a campaign manager for his re-election contest.

The next day, Friday, Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., conveyed the White House message to Paterson as well.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs refused to say today if the president has told Paterson he does not think he should run.

"I think everybody understands the tough jobs that every elected official has right now in addressing many of the problems that we have, and I think people are aware of the tough situation that the governor of New York is in," Gibbs said. "And I wouldn't add a lot to what you've read, except this is a decision that he's going to make. "

Paterson is seen as vulnerable, and Democrats are especially worried about former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who is toying with jumping into the race.

But Paterson has the support of one top New York Democrat -- Rep. Charlie Rangel, who is rallying to the embattled governor's side.

"Do you think Paterson should step aside? Of course not," he said. "That is stupid, it doesn't make any sense and I don't believe it ever happened."

What New Yorkers Say About Paterson

New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who is up for re-election himself in November, declined to weigh in on the president's involvement in the gubernatorial race, saying he has not heard Obama say anything about New York races.

"While I have very strong personal views on who I would like to have elected, I don't have the luxury as the mayor of the city of New York [to weigh in]," Bloomberg said. "I'm going to stay out of those races where whoever wins I'm going to have to deal with."

Asked if he wants Paterson to be successful, Bloomberg said, "absolutely."

Former Republican New York Gov. George Pataki said it is "wrong" for Obama to weigh in on Paterson's political future while the state is facing so many challenges.

"To weaken and undermine a governor at a time when he will be the governor for the next 15 months doesn't serve the interest of the state or country," Pataki said Monday.

Carl McCall, an African American Democrat who lost to Pataki in the 2002 New York gubernatorial race, agreed that the timing was bad, given Paterson's "enormous challenges."

"It undermines his efforts to deal with those issues," McCall told ABC News.

While McCall did not deny there could be a better candidate out there who could deal with the Democratic agenda, he said that these types of decisions are "best decided on the local level" not by the White House.

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