Obama Throws Gov. Paterson Under the Bus

Wow. Harsh.

The White House came crashing down on Gov. David Patterson over the weekend, letting it be known that the first African-American president would like New York's African-American governor to go away.

The fact that Patterson has terrible poll numbers isn't exactly a secret. But for a sitting president to inject himself in state politics, against a sitting governor who's a member of his party, is rare.

It doesn't seem quite fair. It's not as if Patterson was Rod Blagojevich. His administration has been disorganized. He was thrust into power at a moment when New York needed strong leadership, what with the economy and the state senate collapsing simultaneously. And he couldn't deliver.

But it's hard to imagine that George Pataki - or even Mario Cuomo - could have done much with either Wall Street or the nuttiness that is the state senate.

Ever since Eliot Spitzer resigned in disgrace and Patterson inherited his job, the new governor has tried to steer the state in a reasonable direction. He hasn't succeeded, and there's nothing that suggests his administration is ever going to be anything but chaotic.

Democratic voters might well prefer Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. But this hardly seems like the sort of situation that requires an emergency intervention by the most powerful person on the planet.

It sounds as if someone very high level member of the Obama administration - call me crazy, but I'm thinking Rahm Emanuel - is ticked off that the governor has failed to respond to polite requests that he leave town, and decided to publicly shove him out the door.

The Obama administration does have a stake in the 2010 elections in New York. Kirsten Gillibrand, the very junior Senator, is probably going to need all the help she can get from the top of the ticket. And the state senate is teetering precariously between the two political parties. (For us minions, the state senate is the place that passes taxes and the budget and rent control laws. For the White House, it's the place that decides how the congressional district boundaries are drawn.)

So yes, you can understand why Barack Obama and his team would like to see a more attractive Democratic candidate for governor than David Patterson. You can understand why the White House would be trying to prod, or lure, Patterson into retirement.

But there's a wide gap between that and what happened over the weekend, when the White House decided to publicly humiliate the governor.

It's one thing to send the message - which the White House apparently did last week via its political director, Patrick Gaspard, with Congressman Gregory Meeks of Queens waiting in the wings to drive the bad news home. It's another to make your intentions public.

That's what the White House did this weekend, when the papers were reporting that, in the words of the Times, "two senior administration officials and a New York Democratic operative" were letting the public word out that Barack Obama thought David Patterson was a loser.

Patterson says he's going to run anyway. We'll see. But right now, we have as much cause to worry about the President's priorities as the governor's shortcomings.