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N.Y. governor says he’ll stay as long as voters want him

Paterson takes aim at rumors of misconduct

Governor David Paterson said the only way he’d leave office early “is in a box.’’ Governor David Paterson said the only way he’d leave office early “is in a box.’’
(Mike Groll/Associated Press)
By Michael Gormley
Associated Press / February 10, 2010

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ALBANY, N.Y. - New York Governor David Paterson, defying calls from even fellow Democrats to drop out of the race for a full term, said yesterday that he would leave only if the voters turned him out through the ballot box, or “in a box.’’

Paterson spoke after several days of rumors sweeping the state Capitol about carousing in the governor’s mansion, all of which Paterson denied.

Since Paterson took over from his predecessor, who resigned in a prostitution scandal, his popularity has plummeted and many Democrats have voiced their preference that Attorney General Andrew Cuomo run for governor when Paterson’s term is up.

The infighting and the recent rumormongering have further fractured state Democrats and added an edge to the national party’s struggle to maintain ground.

Facing challenges from coast to coast amid voter frustration with incumbents of both parties, Democrats in particular are girding for losses that could see states’ chief executives go into Republican hands. New York, a traditionally Democratic-leaning state, would be a devastating blow to a party that in 2008 saw a landslide amid President Obama’s election.

Paterson appeared to take heart from an interview earlier in the day with The New York Times, which had been widely anticipated to be preparing a story dealing with his personal conduct. He said that in the interview he was not asked about drug use in the governor’s mansion or partying with women.

“The only way I’m not going to be governor next year is at the ballot box, and the only way that I will be leaving the office before is in a box,’’ Paterson said during a news conference.

Paterson had decried the allegations Monday.

“Obviously we are not responsible for what other news organizations are reporting,’’ said Times spokeswoman Diane C. McNulty. “It’s not coming from the Times.’’

Paterson’s chief of staff is seeking an internal inquiry into how the Times’ reporting of a story led to unproven rumors of personal misconduct by Paterson.

Paterson Chief of Staff Lawrence Schwartz released a letter late yesterday that he sent to Clark Hoyt, the public editor of the Times. In the letter, Schwartz blames the newspaper for failing to stem the rumors, even after direct appeals.

Schwartz says the newspaper could have issued a statement to end the unsubstantiated rumors that Paterson partied with women and drugs as governor.

Paterson attributed the rumors to news outlets and blogs other than the Times. He said that three sources contacted reporters at the start of Sunday’s Super Bowl to leak word that he was about to resign, which he said he never contemplated.

“It seems to be somewhat orchestrated,’’ Paterson said yesterday of the rumors, on whose source he has declined to publicly speculate.

One item by the New York Post on Jan. 30 stated he was caught by state police in a utility closet with a woman other than his wife. The Post has stood by its story. Paterson said a Times reporter who interviewed him yesterday in the mansion couldn’t even find such a closet.

He said yesterday that after his interview with the Times, he expects its article to be a profile, not about sexual escapades or drug use. “No such questions, really, to any of that was asked of me,’’ he said.

Paterson said his two children and his wife have been supportive through the week of innuendo, with one consistent message: “Don’t give up, even if you are ridiculed.’’

Most of Paterson’s fellow top Democrats were silent as the governor sought to snuff out the rumors. Cuomo would not comment on the unsubstantiated tales.

Many Democrats have voiced wishes that Cuomo run for governor instead of Paterson, a former lieutenant governor who took the post in 2008 upon the resignation of Eliot Spitzer, named in a prostitution investigation.

A day after taking office, Paterson told a news conference that he had been unfaithful to his wife around 1999 when they separated. A week later he told an interviewer that he had tried cocaine and marijuana when he was in his early 20s.

A Republican candidate for governor sided with Paterson yesterday.

“The Capitol is paralyzed by rumor and innuendo, and somehow we need to get past that and focus on the basic problems that people care about,’’ Rick Lazio said.

Democratic state leaders wouldn’t comment on Paterson or the rumors as he confronts the Legislature over the state budget, an ethics bill he vetoed, and the awarding of a contract for video slot machines at Aqueduct race track.