Thursday, February 25, 2010

Top Paterson Official Resigns by Nicholas Confessore and Danny Hakim- City Room Blog -

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The cabinet official who supervises the State Police has resigned in the wake of reports of intervention by the State Police and Gov. David A. Paterson into a domestic-assault case against a senior Paterson aide.

The official, Denise E. O’Donnell, deputy secretary for public safety, issued a statement Thursday after inquiries from The New York Times.

“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,” she wrote. “These actions are unacceptable regardless of their intent.”

The resignation, at 2 p.m., came on a day when New York’s political establishment reeled at the news of Mr. Paterson’s involvement, with some of the beleaguered governor’s few remaining allies publicly suggesting that he should end his campaign for election.

Ms. O’Donnell wrote that she found the breach “particularly distressing” in an administration “that prides itself on its record of combating domestic violence.

“The behavior alleged here is the antithesis of what many of us have spent our entire careers working to build,” she added, “a legal system that protects victims of domestic violence and brings offenders to justice.”

Ms. O’Donnell wrote that the State Police superintendent, Harry J. Corbitt, had misled her last month about the involvement of the State Police in the case, in which the senior Paterson aide, David W. Johnson, was accused of hitting his companion:

Superintendent Corbitt told me the staff member had an argument with his girlfriend, that a domestic incident report had been filed, but that there was no arrest and that the matter was being handled as a local police matter by the New York Police Department.

My immediate concern was what role the State Police would take in the investigation and I was assured by Superintendent Corbitt that the State Police were not involved.

It was only last night when I learned from press reports the contrary details, including the involvement of the State Police.

For these reasons, I am resigning my position as commissioner of the Division of Criminal Justice Services and Deputy Secretary of Public Safety effective today.

Though Mr. Paterson has asked Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo, his likely opponent in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, to investigate the matter, many Democratic officials around the state said on Thursday, even before Ms. O’Donnell’s resignation, that there was little the governor could do to restore confidence in his ability to lead.

While no prominent Democrats have yet called on Mr. Paterson to resign, sentiment appears to be growing rapidly for him to suspend his campaign, regardless of the outcome of Mr. Cuomo’s inquiry.

“I think it’s become apparent that he should not seek re-election and should announce it soon,” said Representative Steve Israel of Long Island, who called Mr. Paterson in the morning to urge him not to run. “There’s a case to be made that he can leave Albany with his head held high, having focused exclusively on the crises that confront the state, rather than facing the distraction of a tough campaign.”

Mr. Israel is a longtime friend of Mr. Paterson’s who was among the governor’s finalists last year to fill Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Senate seat.

Hakeem Jeffries, a Democratic assemblyman from central Brooklyn, said he believed Mr. Paterson should suspend his campaign at least until Mr. Cuomo had finished his inquiry. But Mr. Jeffries also suggested that the results of Mr. Cuomo’s investigation might not matter, politically speaking.

“There is a growing sentiment, even among African-American elected officials, that this latest incident is not just the beginning of the end, but perhaps may be the end,” Mr. Jeffries said. “There’s no other evidence that we need to see. This is not going to work.”

Even some of the governor’s closest allies — including black elected officials and Democratic activists from New York City — believe there is little he can do to salvage his political career.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, one of Mr. Paterson’s strongest allies, said he had called a meeting of black elected officials for Saturday, the day before Mr. Paterson is scheduled to hold a campaign rally.

Mr. Sharpton said that John L. Sampson, the Senate Democratic leader; Senator Eric Adams, a Brooklyn Democrat; and Representative Gregory W. Meeks, a Queens Democrat, would be among those in attendance.

“We’re going to talk about the obvious fallout from this,” Mr. Sharpton said.

Mr. Paterson was not invited to the meeting, Mr. Sharpton said. The minister, whose influence has been widely viewed as one of Mr. Paterson’s few remaining buffers against Mr. Cuomo, would not say what he thought the governor should do next, commenting that he did not want to pre-empt Saturday’s meeting.

Another ally of the governor, Assemblyman Darryl C. Towns, paused and sighed heavily when asked to suggest a course of action for Mr. Paterson.

“I don’t know,” said Mr. Towns, a former chairman of the Legislature’s caucus of minority lawmakers. “I don’t know.”

Assemblyman Carl E. Heastie, who is also the chairman of the Bronx Democratic Party, refused to say whether he still supported the governor or whether Mr. Paterson should step aside.

“No comment, no comment, no comment,” was all Mr. Heastie would say.

“This may be the last straw,” said one person who is close to the governor, but who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue. “If the governor played any role at all in this scandal, he won’t survive.”

Assemblyman Joseph D. Morelle, a prominent upstate Democratic official and chairman of the Monroe County Democratic Party, said that the facts of Mr. Paterson’s communication with the woman who said she had been assaulted by Mr. Johnson needed to be aired in “days, not weeks and months.”

“If there’s any impropriety, I think it raises serious questions about whether he can continue to serve,” Mr. Morelle said of the governor.

Jeremy W. Peters contributed reporting.