Gov. David Paterson’s embattled top aide resigned Friday, after a week of escalating criticism over his failure to pay $300,000 in taxes on time and a questionable excuse for the lapse.
A state official close to the decision said Chief of Staff Charles O’Byrne’s resignation was accepted with regret by Paterson, his close friend. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because Paterson hadn’t yet announced the decision.
O’Byrne, who has ties to the Kennedy family, has said clinical depression kept him from paying taxes from 2001 to 2005, before he took the job titled secretary to the governor.
O’Byrne’s problems were first made public in the New York Post on Saturday and O’Byrne has been fighting against mounting pressure to keep his $178,500-a-year job since. On Tuesday, lawyers for O’Byrne sought to end the controversy by releasing tax data, but ended up intensifying the criticism when they blamed the delay on “non-filers’ syndrome” related to his depression. One of the tax attorneys said it was a common mental health problem for professionals, but mental health and IRS officials said they never heard of it.
Paterson administration officials didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
O’Byrne, a former Jesuit priest who officiated at the wedding of John F. Kennedy Jr. and counseled the Kennedy family three years later after he died in a plane crash, was the top aide to Paterson. He was responsible for mapping out policy and politics as Paterson rose from the near powerless Democratic minority in the Senate to lieutenant governor and then governor after Democrat Eliot Spitzer resigned in March amid a prostitution scandal.
O’Byrne’s resignation is a blow to an administration that has fought one crisis after another, beginning with Spitzer’s resignation after just 14 months, much of which was spent in gridlock after fights with the Republican-led Senate.
Since then, Paterson, with O’Byrne, took the extraordinary step of getting the Legislature to agree to cut Spitzer’s last budget, cut 10 percent of spending in the executive branch and warned of dire fiscal problems months before Wall Street’s meltdown. Paterson has planned a second emergency economic session for November in which he’ll try to get the Legislature to cut deeper to help fill a $2 billion deficit.