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Paterson under fire as scandal expands

The New York governor's chief spokesman quits, and Paterson appears to be losing the support of black leaders. An ethics allegation over Yankee tickets crops up.

March 05, 2010|By Tina Susman and Geraldine Baum

Reporting from New York — Gov. David Paterson's chief spokesman issued a stinging farewell statement and quit his job Thursday, and black leaders who had once rallied around Paterson were reconsidering their positions as the embattled leader's support appeared to be crumbling around him.

A scandal that began with allegations that Paterson intervened to quash a domestic violence case against a close advisor, David W. Johnson, has expanded to include accusations that the governor violated ethics rules by soliciting free tickets behind home plate to watch the Yankees in the World Series. Paterson has denied wrongdoing.

He dodged questions on his long-term plans Thursday 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, Paterson ignored reporters, got into a waiting SUV and drove off.

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

But political analysts, critics and some of Paterson's staunchest supporters said that even though Paterson has less than a year left in his term, his ability to do his job is questionable in the face of the spiraling scandal.

"I think we've got a responsibility to do what is best for the constituents and the people we all claim to serve," said the Rev. Al Sharpton before convening what was termed an "emergency meeting" of civic leaders -- most of them black political and civic leaders who had been backing Paterson -- in Harlem on Thursday night.

Sharpton, speaking on MSNBC's "Hardball," cited other leaders who had managed to remain 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.

Sharpton led a meeting of the same group of black leaders last weekend, which ended with a unified show of support for Paterson, but much has changed since then.

In his resignation statement Thursday, Paterson's chief of communications, Peter Kauffmann, made clear 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," said Kauffmann, the third Paterson official to quit in a week.

The first departure, of Paterson's deputy secretary for public safety, Denise O'Donnell, followed revelations that the governor's office had been in touch with the ex-girlfriend of Paterson aide Johnson, who was accused of hitting the woman. After O'Donnell quit, Paterson dropped his bid to be elected to the governor's post this fall. Paterson was sworn into office last year on March 17 after his predecessor, Eliot Spitzer, quit amid a prostitution scandal.

On Tuesday, Harry Corbitt, head of the state police, resigned amid scrutiny of his alleged role in orchestrating the contact between the governor's office and Johnson's ex-girlfriend. The woman had sought an order of protection against Johnson, but after the contact with the governor's office, which included a phone conversation with Paterson himself, she did not show up for a court appearance.

Kauffmann's resignation was linked to an investigation by the state's Public Integrity Commission into several tickets to the Yankees' first game in last fall's World Series. Paterson's statements that he planned to pay for them contradicted Kauffmann's version of events to the commission, which has concluded that Paterson lied under oath about his intentions. Because the Yankees had been lobbying the state for funding for their new stadium, free tickets would have violated ethics laws.

Paterson has denied wrongdoing in both cases.

tina.susman@latimes.com

geraldine.baum@latimes.com

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