NYC black leaders: Paterson should stay in office
Associated Press Writers
NEW YORK (AP) – 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 violence scandal and new ethics charges related to free World Series tickets he sought and obtained from the New York Yankees, despite a state gift ban.
Group members said they want to meet with the governor to discuss his ability to continue to govern.
There was a “spirited discussion,” said Sharpton, flanked by former Mayor David Dinkins and Hazel Dukes, former president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
“Some dissented. The overwhelming majority said they were supportive of the governor,” Sharpton said.
Outside the restaurant, Sharpton was asked explicitly if he supported the governor.
“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.
Dinkins said Paterson absolutely should remain in office.
Former state Comptroller H. Carl McCall made a case for Paterson to stay, while others reportedly were angry inside the closed meeting, with calls for Paterson to resign.
Earlier, McCall said on FOX Business Network that it was important for the group to be united on the question of whether Paterson is able 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.”
Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries of Brooklyn said afterward that there was overwhelming support for the idea that Paterson is entitled to the presumption of innocence until the investigation is finished.
“We all believe that Governor Paterson, at this moment, can continue to move forward and do the people’s business as the legal proceedings play themselves out,” he said. He noted that President Bill Clinton continued to serve despite a grand jury probe and impeachment proceedings.
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 senior state Democrat who spoke on condition of anonymity had told The Associated Press that black leaders went to the meeting with hopes of crafting a “message calling for the governor to resign,” which Sharpton denied.
A black Democratic adviser, who also spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the discussions, said Sharpton is expected to say he’s rethinking his support for Paterson. Later, the adviser said Kauffmann’s resignation “rattled” the group and would be a topic of Thursday night’s discussion.
Hours before the meeting, state Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr. issued a statement urging black leaders to delay any action to push Paterson toward resignation.
“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.”
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’s office didn’t respond to requests for comment Thursday.
Gormley reported from Albany. Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Ula Ilnytzky and Colleen Long in New York and Valerie Bauman in Albany.