Governor quits poll race amid scandal

Paterson accused of interfering in domestic violence case against aide

By David Usborne
Saturday 27 February 2010 01:00

The Governor of New York, David Paterson, has ditched his bid for re-election this November following revelations that a senior aide had been accused of domestic abuse.

Governor Paterson's campaign had been officially launched for only a week when questions emerged about reported attempts by the state police to persuade the victim of the abuse to drop all complaints against the aide, David Johnson. Worse, the Governor himself had spoken by phone with the woman on the eve of a court appointment she failed to attend.

Mr Paterson, who is registered blind, moved into the Governor's mansion in Albany only after his predecessor, Eliot Spitzer, resigned after admitting that he had regularly visited prostitutes.

The Governor's decicison will be welcomed by Democrats nationally. Party officials – and the White House – had been fretting for months that he would be a disastrous candidate, and that one of the most important governorships might be lost to a Republican in an election year that is already looking deadly for Democrats.

Governor Paterson confirmed his decision at a press conference in Albany with his wife alongside him. "I have never abused my office – not now, not ever," he said. But he added: "I am being realistic about politics ... I cannot run for office and try to manage the state's business at the same time."

Waiting to fill the void is the serving Attorney General of New York, Andrew Cuomo. There is little doubt that the son of one of New York's most famous former governors – Mario Cuomo – will declare his candidacy shortly. A popular figure in the state, the race would probably be his to lose.

Mr Paterson awoke yesterday to a clamour of New York front-page editorials urging him to give up hope of running again. "Time To Go", the Daily News blared from the Big Apple news-stands. By breakfast time, word was already leaking from party sources that he would throw in the towel.

The events that derailed him began with an alleged confrontation between the 6ft7ins Johnson – who went from official driver to become one of the governor's closest confidants – and his girlfriend, Sherr-una Booker at her New York City apartment last Hallowe'en night.

She told a court that he ripped off her party costume, shoved her against a mirror and tore out a phone line to prevent her calling for help.

Ms Booker subsequently claimed that she had been pressured by the state police to drop her complaint. More troubling still are revelations that she spoke by phone directly to Mr Paterson the day before she was to appear in court about the case. She never showed up and the hearing did not happen.

In one of the more politically poignant twists to the tale, Mr Paterson found himself forced this week to ask Mr Cuomo – as the Attorney General and thus the most senior law enforcement officer in the state – to formally investigate Ms Booker's claims.

Even before the Governor's decision to quit became public, some of his erstwhile allies had concluded that he could not do three things at once: run the state, run an election campaign and cope with an ethics investigation against him and the state police. "The fact that the Governor and members of the state police have acknowledged direct contact with a woman who had filed for an order of protection against a senior member of the Governor's staff is a very serious matter," said Nita Lowey, who represents a southern New York district in the US Congress. "These actions are unacceptable, regardless of their intent."

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