After graduating from Hofstra Law School, Paterson worked in the District Attorney's office of Queens County, New York, and on the staff of Manhattan Borough President David Dinkins. In 1985, he was elected to the New York State Senate to a seat that was once held by his father, former New York Secretary of State Basil Paterson. In 2003, he rose to the position of Senate Minority Leader. Paterson was selected as running mate by then-New York Attorney General and Democratic Party gubernatorial nominee Eliot Spitzer in the 2006 New York gubernatorial election. Spitzer and Paterson were elected in November 2006 with 69 percent of the vote, and Paterson took office as Lieutenant Governor on January 1, 2007.
When Spitzer resigned in the wake of a prostitution scandal, Paterson was sworn in as governor of New York on March 17, 2008. Paterson launched a brief campaign for a full term as governor in the 2010 gubernatorial election, but announced on February 26, 2010, that he would not be a candidate in the Democratic primary. David Paterson was born in Brooklyn to Portia Paterson, a homemaker, and labor law attorney Basil Paterson. Basil Paterson was later a New York state senator and secretary of state, and served as deputy mayor of New York City. According to a New York Now interview, Paterson traces his roots on his mother's side of the family to pre-Civil War African American slaves in the states of North Carolina and South Carolina. His father is half Afro-Jamaican. His paternal grandmother, Evangeline Rondon Paterson was secretary to Black Nationalist leader Marcus Garvey. His paternal grandfather was Leonard James Paterson, a native of Carriacou who arrived in the United States aboard the S.S. Vestris on May 16, 1917. Part of his father's ancestry consists of immigrants from England, Ireland, and Scotland, while his mother's side includes European ancestry, as well as ancestors from the Guinea-Bissau region of West Africa.
At the age of three months, Paterson contracted an ear infection which spread to his optic nerve, leaving him with no sight in his left eye and severely limited vision in his right. Since New York City public schools would not guarantee him an education without placing him in special education classes, his family bought a home in the Long Island suburb of South Hempstead so that he could attend mainstream classes there. Paterson was the first disabled student in the Hempstead public schools, graduating from Hempstead High School in 1971.
Paterson received a B.A. in History from Columbia College of Columbia University in 1977 and a law degree from Hofstra Law School in 1983. After law school, he went to work for the Queens District Attorney's Office, but did not pass the New York bar examination, thus not becoming an Attorney at law. He claimed that his failing the New York bar was partially the result of insufficient accommodation for his visual impairment, and has since advocated for changes in bar exam procedures.While he was governor, Paterson's staff read documents to him over voice mail. Paterson was the first governor of New York to be partly blind. Paterson and his wife, Michelle Paige Paterson, separated after 19 years of marriage in September 2012.
In 1985, Paterson resigned from the Queens District Attorney's office so he could join the campaign of then city clerk David Dinkins to win the Democratic nomination for Manhattan Borough President. That summer, on August 6, state senator Leon Bogues died, and Paterson sought and obtained the Democratic party nomination for the seat. In mid-September, a meeting of 648 Democratic committee members on the first ballot gave Paterson 58% of the vote, giving him the party nomination. That October, Paterson won the virtually uncontested special State Senate election. At the time, the 29th Senate district covered the Manhattan neighborhoods of Harlem, Manhattan Valley and the Upper West Side, the same district that Paterson's father had represented. Upon his election, Paterson became the youngest State Senator in Albany. He won the seat again in 1986 for a full term representing the 29th District in the New York State Senate, and served as senator until assuming the office of Lieutenant Governor on January 1, 2007. Paterson briefly ran in the Democratic primary for the office of New York City Public Advocate in 1993, but was defeated by Mark J. Green.