"In spite of the governor's heretofore excellent record on women's issues, it is now time for the governor to step down," Marci Pappas, president of the New York chapter of the National Organization for Women, said today. According to the New York Times, N.Y. Gov. David Paterson attempted to persuade a woman who accused her ex-boyfriend and one of Paterson's aides, David W. Johnson, of assault "to publicly describe the episode as nonviolent." Reports that Paterson instructed employees to ask the woman to change her story, and that he spoke to her himself a day before she was meant to appear in court -- she then didn't -- have moved NOW, among others, to call for his resignation. Said Pappas, "It is inappropriate for the governor to have any contact or to direct anyone to contact an alleged victim of violence." Or, as Open Salon blogger Saturn Smith put it, "Even if all Paterson thought was going on was a non-violent lovers' spat, using the people who work for you to intervene is bad form. If you are the governor of New York, it's absolutely wrong."
Indeed. And what Paterson has admitted is only the tip of the iceberg under investigation. The woman, who accused Johnson of "choking her, smashing her into a mirrored dresser and preventing her from calling for help during a Halloween altercation in the Bronx apartment they shared," has also said under oath that state police "harassed and pressured her not to pursue charges" in the days after the incident, although it's not yet known if Paterson was involved in that. As Miriam at Feministing says, "These allegations are extremely serious. Intimidating a survivor of domestic violence, attempting to interfere with legal proceedings, possibly in order to avoid political scandal or protect an employee. Considering New York State's recent history with domestic violence and those in government, this shouldn't be taken lightly. "
Worse yet, this might not be the first time Paterson has prioritized covering Johnson's butt over taking accusations of violence seriously. The Times reports that Deneane Brown, one of the state employees who allegedly contacted the woman, "also played a role on the administration's behalf in characterizing one of Mr. Johnson's prior disputes with a woman." That ex accused Johnson of punching her in the face, but before the paper published a story about it, "Mr. Paterson's press office informed a reporter for The Times that it had unearthed a witness, Ms. Brown, who characterized the incident as nothing more than a verbal argument."
Paterson has already announced that he won't run for governor once his term is finished, but as blogger Jeff Fecke put it, "If today's allegations are true, then that doesn't go far enough. Like his predecessor, Paterson should resign, before the day is out. Paterson injected himself into a criminal case on the side of an assailant. At best, he did so recklessly, assuming that the -- again -- criminal case was not so serious as it really was. At worst, he did so with malice, seeking to get the exact result he did-- a woman who, faced with pressure from the office of the governor, gave up on her criminal case because she saw more pain going forward with it than any relief justice could give her."
Unless this is all proven to be a misunderstanding of staggering proportions, the calls for Paterson's resignation seem well warranted. The facts of this scandal may still be murky, but here's some hard data worth considering. According to New York's Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, in 2008, the state's "Domestic and Sexual Violence Hotlines received ... a total of 153,000 calls." In the same year, 11 percent of New York's homicides were committed by intimate partners of the victims, and "50% of females aged 16 and older who were victims of homicide were killed by an intimate partner." Many thousands of assaults were reported -- over 30,000 cases went through the state's 31 domestic violence courts -- and no one knows how many weren't. Paterson's record on domestic violence may be strong, but if these allegations are true, he consciously chose to protect an abuser and hang a victim out to dry. The people of New York deserve more than that -- and all too many of them need more.