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The Blind, Leading

Today’s wiretap bombshell implicating New York Governor Eliot Spitzer in a prostitution sting could result in a resignation as early as this evening, according to several sources. Spitzer’s likely successor, Lieutenant Governor David Paterson, would be only the third black governor in American history, and the first blind one.

Paterson, who is totally blind in his left eye and has only partial sight in his right, would join the handful of other blind politicians who have held positions of national prominence.

Eugene Saulsy of Indiana lost his sight at the turn of the last century, making him the first blind American senator. Thomas Pryor Gore—grandfather of Gore Vidal—was blinded in a childhood accident and later served three terms as the senator from the new state of Oklahoma. And the year that Paterson won his current position, another blind politician, Kristin Cox, ran for Lieutenant Governor in Maryland.

David Blunkett, a blind man who served as both Education Secretary and Home Secretary under Tony Blair in Britain, wrote a series of diary entries published in the Guardian in 2006, ruminating on the experience of living and legislating in a sighted world.

One of the problems of not being able to see is drinking orange juice
when there is a wasp in it. This happened to me. I had it in my mouth
and was about to chew it when something told me to spit it out. I did
so, but it stung me and my mouth, face, arms and hands all started to
swell. It was one of those frightening experiences when you think:
"There's no one around, what do I do?" Living on my own is sometimes
quite frightening.

In many ways, not being able to see required me to be much more alert and alive to what was going on around me, as well as knowing when people wanted to intervene and being ready to sit down and allow them to raise a question or make a point. It is possible to work out where someone is most likely to be sitting. It is possible to know from their voice who they are. Question time, which for departmental questions is once a month and lasts for an hour, I always found easy. After all, the secretary of state has the last word.

Bringing it all full-circle, Blunkett, perhaps today's most well-known blind politician, was himself embroiled in a public sex scandal when his married and pregnant mistress decided to end their three-year affair. Blunkett was permitted to stay in Blair’s cabinet for a time, however, and returned to remained in public service afterward--setting a precedent that perhaps preempts Paterson’s succession.

--Dayo Olopade