For weeks, rumors have been swirling around New York Governor David Paterson, indicating that the New York Times was about to drop a scandal bombshell that would mortally wound his political career. The rumors themselves became a story, bringing some sympathy to Paterson as a political figure being smeared by whispers and innuendo. Paterson, who became governor when his predecessor, Eliot Spitzer, disgraced himself and his office by patronizing exactly the kind of prostitution ring he made his reputation prosecuting, was already unpopular and hadn’t helped himself any by claiming his unpopularity was fueled by media racism.
The good news for Paterson: from this point on, he needn’t worry about racism being the cause of his low approval ratings.
The bad news: The New York Times did have a scandal to investigate, and it shows the governor to be almost as great a hypocrite as Spitzer, as well as an abuser of his power and position.
We’re still in the awkward “alleged” stage of the story, but it appears that the Times report is carefully researched and accurate. A woman had accused David Johnson, one of the governor’s long-time aides, of violent physical abuse. The State Police pressed her to drop the case (though they had no jurisdiction in the matter) and Gov. Paterson talked with her personally. She did drop the case.
In addition to allegedly interfering with a legal matter, Paterson apparently tried to throw the press off the scent, complaining to Times editors that its reporters were questioning “a former girlfriend of an aide” to fish for dirt on the governor. This is all abuse of power, with a measure of conflict of interest, deceit, dishonesty, obstruction of justice and failure to execute the laws tossed into the mix.
The hypocrisy? Oh, plenty of that: Paterson has posed as an advocate for the cause of battered women, yet in this case seems to have been trying to protect a batterer. He made pointed and critical remarks regarding the case of Hiram Monserrate, the former state senator who was convicted of misdemeanor assault against his female companion and ousted from the State Legislature as a result. Gov. Paterson was especially indignant that the woman Monserrate abused continued to be pestered by his aides, after she had been granted an order of protection against Monserrate. Paterson said then that the actions of the aides warranted a criminal investigation for possible witness intimidation. And yet here was the governor himself, talking with another victim before she testified.
The involvement of the State Police also seems to show Paterson violating his own principles. One of his first initiatives after becoming governor was to demand that the State Police end any involvement in political matters.
We will undoubtedly learn more. For now, however, it is safe to conclude that David Paterson has joined Eliot Spitzer, Sarah Palin, Mark Sanford, and Rod Blagojevich as recent state governors who proved unable to get through their terms of office without engaging in serious unethical conduct—and that list gives several others, like Texas’s Rick Perry, the benefit of the doubt.
Why is it so hard to find ethical governors? That question has to wait for another time, but it is important that we find some answers, and quickly.