Influential black leaders in New York City said Thursday night that they believe Gov. David Paterson should stay in office amid allegations he and his staff interfered in a domestic violence case involving a top governor’s aide.
Meeting in a Harlem soul food restaurant that is the center of power for black politics in New York, the group led by the Rev. Al Sharpton agreed that Paterson should try to withstand the scandal and new ethics charges related to World Series tickets.
The group said they want to meet with the governor to discuss his ability to continue to govern.
Sharpton, flanked by former Mayor David Dinkins and Hazel Dukes, former president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said, “Many of us have the view the governor should continue to serve.”
Outside the restaurant, Sharpton was asked explicitly whether he thought the governor should stay in office.
“I’m the convener,” he said. “There were people on both sides.”
The meeting came the same day a third key administration official quit because of the domestic violence scandal. Communications Director Peter Kauffmann said he could not “in good conscience” stay on because of the controversy.
“We all believe the governor should be permitted to serve out the remainder of his term,” said Dinkins.
Former state Comptroller H. Carl McCall made a case for Paterson to stay, while others reportedly were angry inside the closed meeting with city Public Advocate Bill de Blasio calling for Paterson to resign.
Earlier, McCall on FOX Business Network said it was important for the group to be united on the question of whether Paterson has the ability to lead.
“I don’t want to go out and do this on my own,” McCall said, noting that he had his doubts about whether Paterson can continue. “I think it would be more meaningful if we come to some collective decision about that and then communicate it by a lot of us, who, as you know, for a long time have been very, very strong supporters of the governor.”
Paterson hasn’t been charged with any crimes and has said his side of the story will clear him. But he said he can’t divulge elements of his side of the story because he said it would interfere with the investigation he asked Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to take on.
A state panel accused Paterson on Wednesday of illegally obtaining World Series tickets, then lying about it. That charge came on top of an investigation of whether the governor or staff members had inappropriate contact with a woman who made — but later dropped — an abuse complaint against an aide.
Testimony by communications director Kauffmann was key to the decision by the Public Integrity Commission to charge Paterson with an ethics violation. Kauffmann resigned Thursday, saying he “could not in good conscience continue in my current position.”
The governor insists he did nothing wrong, won’t quit and will fight the ethics charges. His office didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday.
State Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr. issued a statement Thursday urging black leaders to delay any action to push Paterson toward resignation.
“I am urging Rev. Sharpton and the leaders of the African-American Community to not abandon Governor Paterson and to give him an opportunity to present his side of the story,” Diaz said in his statement.
“We Hispanic legislators, we are united,” Diaz said, noting the historic strength of the black-Latino coalition. “We wanted to make sure they know our position.”
One of the people attending Thursday’s meeting, Sen. Bill Perkins of Harlem, said Diaz’s comments and the surprise resignation by Paterson’s communications director is making the sentiment of the black leaders’ group “fluid.” The longtime friend of the governor said a proposal to seek Paterson’s resignation is still possible, but he wants to hear more discussion.
“I would not want to predict that” the group would call for Paterson’s resignation, “but, obviously, that it’s out there at all is meaningful . . .
“The governor knows what he did,” Perkins said. If the allegations are true, Perkins said Paterson should “cut bait now and spare the public, the people of this state, the torturous resignation.”
Congressman Charles B. Rangel, who relinquished his House Ways and Means Committee chairmanship Wednesday because of ethics inquiries, didn’t attend.
The New York branch of the National Organization for Women and some elected Democrats have been calling for Paterson’s resignation. But Paterson found some support Thursday from an organization of black police officers, 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, that urged an end to what it called a “rush to judgment.”
Kauffmann is the third top staffer to leave the administration over the scandals and, as he resigned, said in a statement: “As a former officer in the United States Navy, integrity and commitment to public service are values I take seriously.”
Deputy Public Safety Secretary Denise O’Donnell abruptly quit Feb. 25, saying State Police Superintendent Harry Corbitt had assured her his agency was not involved in the confrontation involving Paterson aide David Johnson. State police later acknowledged contacting the woman.
Corbitt denied misleading O’Donnell; he said that he told her state police weren’t involved in the investigation, not that they hadn’t contacted the woman. He unexpectedly announced his retirement Tuesday, saying he was tired of the media attention.
A Paterson administration official previously told the AP that the governor directed Press Secretary Marissa Shorenstein to contact the woman who accused the aide of abuse — but only to seek her public statement. Kauffmann was Shorenstein’s boss.
“Peter was loyal, hardworking and dedicated,” said Paterson’s chief of staff, Lawrence Schwartz. “He was smart and we respect his dedication to service. . . . Everyone in the chamber that’s worked with him wishes him the best of luck.”
Kauffmann’s testimony on the Yankees tickets was taken Tuesday, and the full report was issued two days later.
The governor’s seeking and using the tickets for Johnson, another aide, his son and his son’s friend was a violation of the state’s ban on gifts to officials by organizations doing business with the state, according to the commission.
Paterson represented Harlem for 20 years in the state Senate before becoming lieutenant governor in 2006, then governor in 2008, when Eliot Spitzer stepped down during a prostitution scandal.