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Albany colleagues support Paterson

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The state constitution says the lieutenant governor will succeed Spitzer, with the temporary president of the state Senate - the formal title of Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno (R-Saratoga Springs) - assuming the duties of the lieutenant governor.

While Bruno will take on the responsibilities of lieutenant governor, the office will officially be vacant until 2010 - the next election for statewide office.

Paterson, who is legally blind, becomes the first black governor of New York and the third in the country since Reconstruction. He will be sworn March 17.

A former state senator from Harlem for 20 years, Paterson was Senate minority leader from 2002 until he was elected lieutenant governor in 2006.

He is the son of Basil Paterson, also a former state senator who is an influential figure in Harlem politics. His father also ran for lieutenant governor but was unsuccessful. He was former secretary of state and a deputy mayor.

After graduation from Hofstra Law School in 1977, the younger Paterson worked in the Queens DA's office as a criminal law associate.

Paterson is well-respected by state lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and is seen as having potential to bring both political parties together at a time when Spitzer has alienated some influential Republicans in the Legislature.

Spitzer urged state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to investigate Bruno after the governor accused Bruno of using state aircraft for personal business. Bruno, in turn. asked Cuomo to look into Spitzer for allegedly using the State Police to spy on him - allegations that proved to be true.

But Paterson is believed to have a warm relationship with Bruno as well as Senate Minority Leader Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans), who succeeded Paterson in that post.

State Sen. Serphin Maltese (R-Glendale), the former head of the Queens Republican Party, said he has confidence in Paterson.

"He's a very dignified gentleman," Maltese said. "He works well with the Senate majority. I am very hopeful that we can have a true bi-partisan (Legislature) here in Albany now if Paterson takes the strong reins I expect him to take."

While running for lieutenant governor, Paterson visited York College along with Spitzer as part of the Jamaica school's 40th anniversary celebration, where he advocated increasing the amount of government contracts given to minority firms.

In an August 2006 interview with the TimesLedger shortly before he was elected, Paterson said he "signed up for... a ringside seat" when Spitzer campaigned on a platform of reforming Albany.

He may soon find himself inside the ring.

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 173.

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