With Governor David Paterson enveloped in scandal, New York's lieutenant governoris leading the notoriously difficult budget process and freeing up his boss to fight for his political life, experts say.
Richard Ravitch, who would assume the top job should Paterson be brought down by inquiries into whether he abused his office, puts the state in capable hands, they say.
Dick Ravitch is the best, said former New York Mayor Ed Koch. He is absolutely sensational in terms of governance and how to provide good governance and come up with initiatives that nobody's ever thought of .
Ravitch took center stage on Wednesday to unveil a plan to eliminate the state's five-year, $60 billion budget deficit. He proposed short-term borrowing of some $2 billion a year, strict controls on new debt and creation of a financial review board.
Paterson, meanwhile, is under investigation over whether he intervened into a domestic abuse case against a top aide. Another probe is weighing potential criminal charges on grounds he illegally solicited and accepted free gifts.
Many top Democrats have called for his resignation, which Koch said he expects in the next 10 days.
How much can a person suffer? Koch said.
Ravitch said he plans to spent the next 10 days briefing business and labor leaders on his proposals. He briefed the governor and legislative leaders earlier this week.
For a lieutenant governor to take such an upfront role is remarkable, said Gerald Benjamin, an expert in government and a dean at the State University of New Yorkin New Paltz.
It is quite unusual for a lieutenant governor to take the lead in New York in a major area of public policy, Benjamin said. These are unusual times, and this is an unusual circumstance.
Paterson, then lieutenant governor, assumed the state's top job in March 2008 when Governor Eliot Spitzer resigned amid a prostitution scandal.
Paterson later named Ravitch, former head of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the nation's biggest mass transit agency, as his lieutenant.
Ravitch, who has said he would not run for the top office, was appointed by U.S. President Lyndon Johnson in the 1960s to the U.S. Commission on Urban Problems. He later became chairman of New York's Urban Development Corporation and helped guide New York City through its near-bankruptcy in the 1970s.
Handling the budget is Ravitch doing his job, but it helps free up Paterson, said Kathryn Wylde, president and chief executive of the Partnership for New York City, a nonprofit organization of business leaders.
Clearly the governor has so many issues to deal with that having Ravitch 100 percent focused on the budget is a plus. Wylde said.