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NYT: Paterson Loses Aide and Consults Lawyer

March 5, 2010

The rough seas in Patersonland continue to swirl. And meanwhile, what happens to New York State?

Here’s the story:

ALBANY — Gov. David A. Paterson lost another top administration official on Thursday, when his communications director announced that he could no longer “in good conscience” continue in that role for the governor.

The official, Peter E. Kauffmann, submitted his resignation the day after he was interviewed for several hours by prosecutors from the office of Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo, which is investigating the administration’s response to a domestic violence case involving another top aide to the governor, David W. Johnson.

The inquiry is focused on whether the State Police or the governor pressured a former companion of Mr. Johnson, Sherr-una Booker, who told the New York City police that she has been beaten by Mr. Johnson, to keep quiet about the episode and not pursue an order of protection against Mr. Johnson.

Mr. Kauffmann told the investigators that he had come to doubt the veracity of what he was being instructed by the governor to say to reporters about the episode involving Mr. Johnson, people with knowledge of the investigation said. Mr. Kauffmann said he was unsure whether the governor was misleading him, or was misinformed himself, these people said.

“As a former officer in the United States Navy, integrity and commitment to public service are values I take seriously,” he said in a statement on his resignation. “Unfortunately, as recent developments have come to light, I cannot in good conscience continue in my current position.”

Mr. Kauffmann’s resignation came as Mr. Paterson sought the help of a prominent criminal defense lawyer, Theodore V. Wells Jr. of the firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, and as new information emerged indicating that the governor’s contact with Ms. Booker had been more extensive than previously reported.

At the same time, Democratic leaders continued to debate whether Mr. Paterson should remain in office, with signs of unease surfacing among black political leaders, who have been among his strongest allies.

In Harlem on Thursday evening, the Rev. Al Sharpton hosted a meeting of elected black officials and clergy members. He had held a similar meeting on Saturday, a day after Mr. Paterson dropped his election campaign. At that time, the group expressed support for Mr. Paterson’s remaining governor for the last 10 months of his term.

At the gathering on Thursday night at Sylvia’s, the fabled restaurant where Mr. Sharpton regularly holds court, the question of resignation was on the minds of the dozens of black and Hispanic political leaders and ministers who attended.

Tensions in the meeting ran high, participants said, with the group largely divided into two camps: a minority who felt the governor should leave office and a majority who said that the legal process must be allowed to play out first.

“There are those that have taken different views,” Mr. Sharpton said after the two-hour meeting. “Most of those in the room tonight strongly felt the governor should continue.” The meeting drew some of the city’s most prominent leaders, and a crowd of about 100 curious onlookers stood outside as the politicians met in a back room. Among those who attended were Congressmen Gregory W. Meeks and José E. Serrano; Assemblyman Keith L. T. Wright, the Manhattan Democratic Party chairman; and Hazel Dukes, the former president of the N.A.A.C.P.

One Paterson supporter, the former State Comptroller H. Carl McCall, said before the meeting, “It’s a big decision for those of us who support him.”

Mr. McCall, who was the Democratic nominee for governor in 2002, said, “We are concerned about the need for undistracted leadership right now to deal with the fiscal crisis we’re facing.”

The governor did not hold any public events on Thursday, though he had a private lunch with former Mayor David N. Dinkins in the rooftop dining room of the Yale Club in Manhattan, where the two were joined by a 13-year-old boy who, like Mr. Paterson, is legally blind.

Afterward, Mr. Paterson left quickly through a side exit. Asked by reporters if he would still be governor on Friday, he said he would; asked if he would still be governor next week, he did not respond.

His aides then hustled him into a waiting Chevrolet Suburban.

Mr. Dinkins, as he left the club, said that he did not believe Mr. Paterson should resign.

“What’s to be served by trying to force him from office now?” Mr. Dinkins asked.

Mr. Cuomo’s investigators, who are moving quickly to complete their investigation, have been piecing together more details of Mr. Paterson’s contacts with Ms. Booker.

Mr. Paterson has publicly acknowledged talking with her on Feb. 7, the day before she was scheduled to appear in court to seek a final order of protection against Mr. Johnson. She did not appear the next day, and the case was dismissed as a result.

Two people with direct knowledge of her account said Thursday that after the Feb. 7 conversation, the governor had a series of conversations with Ms. Booker in an effort to control political damage from the episode. Around that time, reporters for The New York Times were asking questions about it.

At some point during that series of conversations, Mr. Paterson mentioned the court case, according to the two people with direct knowledge.

They said that in her testimony for Mr. Cuomo’s inquiry, Ms. Booker spoke of how, among other concerns, Mr. Paterson had expressed worry about how she would portray the episode with Mr. Johnson to reporters.

It is not clear when the governor learned that she had accused Mr. Johnson of using violence against her.

In Ms. Booker’s testimony, she said that most of the governor’s conversations with her concerned ways to tamp down a possibly damaging newspaper article, according to the people who know her version of events. She also told the governor that she was annoyed because a reporter had contacted her about Mr. Johnson.

Even before the governor personally contacted Ms. Booker, Mr. Paterson had enlisted a longtime friend and state worker, Deneane Brown, in late January or early February to encourage Ms. Booker to effectively make the problem of the accusations of domestic violence go away, according to two people with direct knowledge of Ms. Brown’s account to investigators.

The lawyer for Ms. Brown, Paul P. Martin, talked with Mr. Cuomo’s investigators and repeated his client’s account on Wednesday, according to a person briefed on the interview.

Mr. Cuomo’s office declined to comment on the inquiry.

Mr. Paterson has more than just the domestic violence case to confront: the state’s Public Integrity Commission has asked Mr. Cuomo to decide whether criminal charges should be brought against the governor for lying under oath about his solicitation of free tickets to a World Series game at Yankee Stadium last October.

In contrast to the murkiness that remains over aspects of Mr. Paterson’s involvement in the domestic violence case, the assertion by the commission that he committed perjury is built on documents and testimony that it says are directly at odds with the governor’s version of events.

Mr. Kauffmann’s testimony before the integrity commission last month helped lead the panel to the conclusion that Mr. Paterson had falsely testified.

Mr. Kauffmann, well regarded in Democratic circles, declined to comment beyond his statement, which echoed the resignation letter of Denise E. O’Donnell, the governor’s top criminal justice adviser, who stepped down last week. “Recent events make it impossible for me, in good conscience, to remain a member of your administration,” Ms. O’Donnell wrote in her letter to Mr. Paterson.

Another official in the Paterson administration, Harry J. Corbitt, superintendent of the State Police, announced his resignation on Tuesday. Mr. Corbitt acknowledged that state troopers had contacted Ms. Booker about her accusations against Mr. Johnson.

Despite Mr. Kauffmann’s comments on Thursday, the governor’s top-ranking staff member, Lawrence S. Schwartz, praised him.

“Peter is smart,” said Mr. Schwartz, secretary to the governor. “He’s creative, hardworking, loyal and dedicated.”



  1. Tommy Carcetti permalink
    March 8, 2010 8:55 pm

    Soda a ‘dangerous substance,’ says Paterson

    March 8, 2010

    ALBANY – Are we talking about the same kind of Coke, governor?

    Gov. Paterson just equated his plan to tax sugared soft drinks with previous efforts to crackdown on the sale of explosives, cigarette sales and other “dangerous substances.”

    “We’re just trying to take dangerous substances out of the hands of children,” the governor told reporters after a Health Department event in the Capitol to sell the controversial “fat tax.”

    “We would’ve equated that years ago with firecrackers or something like that,” he continued. “We are finding that we have all kinds of problems being diagnosed at younger ages because of the consumption of sugar. That’s what we’re trying to stop as a public policy.”

    State budget officials hope to raise a projected $465 million in the next fiscal year with once-cent-per-ounce tax on sugared soft drinks, but the proposal faces stiff opposition in the legislature.

  2. Spiros "Vondas" Vondopoulos permalink
    March 8, 2010 9:10 pm

    Thank you Eliot Spitzer! Thanks for giving New Yorkers “The Accidental Governor!”

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