The Paterson Scandal: Another Governor Bites the Ethics Dust

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.

2 thoughts on “The Paterson Scandal: Another Governor Bites the Ethics Dust

  1. Here are the truly troubling things:

    1. Patterson’s phone call to the lady, if it was as described, looked like an invitation to bribery. That makes the allegations of police interference look more credible, even though I am not inclined to accept that on her word. She reads the newspapers, too.

    2. How the heck does the governor of a state get to meet with the editorial board of that state’s largest newspaper, let alone dress them down? That smacks of either a rank abuse of power, collusion, or both. I thought the press was supposed to be the eyes and ears of the public on political corruption matters.

    In Kentucky, where I live, corrupt governors are unfortunately a long, almost unbroken line. The current governor, so far, has been an exception, which gives me some hope.

    But not much.

  2. I’m not a lawyer nor a Constitutional scholar, but it seems to be that we’ve come to the point where candidates for all offices should be vetted by the FBI or some other agency. If any questionable acts are found, they should have to face hearings before they are allowed to represent their parties.

    It is clear to me that behaviors such as those described above do NOT begin serendipitously after one is elected, but must be part of a long pattern of behavior. Why not try to divine that pattern before they run for office?

    FBI profilers come to mind, though many would believe this is an invasion of privacy. On the other hand, so much damage has been done by unethical, crooked elected officials, that it would sure be nice to have some idea of where they come from, what they’ve really done in the past, and NOT just have information from the “spinners” who make them seem like demi-gods.

    Lawyers and doctors don’t do a very good job at policing themselves. (Nor do the police, come to think of it). The House and Senate Ethics Committees are a joke. Perhaps some non-profit could be formed to “vet” candidates for office before they toss their hats in the ring? Now THAT would be a public service.

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