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Black leaders toss Gov. Paterson a lifeline

They say the New York governor should stay. A third key aide to Paterson resigns.

March 05, 2010|By Tina Susman and Geraldine Baum

Reporting from New York — With his office swirling in scandal and senior staffers walking out on him, New York Gov. David A. Paterson was tossed a life belt late Thursday night by some of the state's most prominent black political and civic leaders, who said he should remain in office.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, who last weekend led black leaders in a meeting that ended with a statement of support for Paterson, gathered the same group late Thursday at a Harlem restaurant for what was deemed an "emergency meeting" to decide if they should stand by the state's first black governor.

Hours earlier, Paterson's chief spokesman, Peter Kauffmann, issued a stinging farewell statement and quit, the third staffer to leave in a week.

In the last few days, a scandal that began with allegations that Paterson had intervened to quash a domestic-violence case against a close aide, David W. Johnson, has expanded to include accusations that the governor violated ethics rules by soliciting free World Series tickets at Yankee Stadium. Paterson has denied wrongdoing.

On Thursday, he dodged questions on his long-term plans as he emerged from a lunch with former New York Mayor David Dinkins.

Asked if he would be governor on Friday, Paterson said, "Uh, yes." Asked if he would be governor next week, he ignored reporters, got into a waiting SUV and was driven away.

Dinkins, who was New York City's first black mayor, offered support for Paterson. "What's to be served by forcing him from office now?" Dinkins said.

Political analysts, critics and some of Paterson's staunchest supporters said that even though the governor has less than a year left in his term, his ability to govern is questionable.

"I think we've got a responsibility to do what is best for the constituents and the people we all claim to serve," Sharpton said before the Harlem meeting began.

Sharpton, speaking on MSNBC's "Hardball," noted that other leaders had remained in office while under fire, including President Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. "On the other hand, New York is in an uproar, and the question is whether that uproar is against the interests of the people," he said.

Hours later, however, Sharpton said most of those at the meeting, which ended about 11 p.m., agreed that Paterson should stay in office. "We all agree the governor should . . . be given the right of due process," Sharpton said.

Earlier Thursday, Kauffmann made clear in his resignation statement that he had lost faith in the governor's office. "As a former officer in the United States Navy, integrity and commitment to public service are values I take seriously. Unfortunately, as recent developments have come to light, I cannot in good conscience continue in my current position," he said.

Paterson's deputy secretary for public safety, Denise O'Donnell, resigned Feb. 25 after revelations that the governor's office had been in touch with the ex-girlfriend of the Paterson aide, Johnson, who was accused of hitting the woman. After O'Donnell quit, Paterson dropped his bid to seek reelection this fall. He had been elected lieutenant governor and moved into the top spot in 2008, when Eliot Spitzer resigned during a prostitution scandal.

On Tuesday, Harry Corbitt, head of the state police, resigned amid scrutiny of his alleged role in the communication between the governor's office and Johnson's ex-girlfriend. The woman, who had sought an order of protection against Johnson, failed to attend a court appearance after what critics say was inappropriate pressure from Paterson's office.

Kauffmann's resignation was linked to an investigation by the state's Public Integrity Commission into tickets used by Paterson, relatives and friends for the first game of last fall's World Series. The panel concluded that Paterson lied under oath when he said he had planned to pay for the tickets -- testimony that contradicted Kauffmann's statements to investigators. The Yankees had been lobbying the state for stadium funding, so free tickets would have violated ethics laws.

Paterson has cited the ongoing investigations as a reason to not give more details of his actions.

But Bill de Blasio, New York City's public advocate, said the governor needed to speak up.

"Pressure is absolutely building on the governor to resign," he said. "In this instance, politically Paterson has a chance to come clean publicly. If he doesn't, he'll have no support left."

Paterson was not seen in public most of Thursday and has no public appearances scheduled Friday.

tina.susman@latimes.com

geraldine.baum @latimes.com

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