NYC black leaders to meet on Gov. Paterson's fate

Rev. Al Sharpton is gathering a group of prominent black Democrats who may urge Paterson to step down

Published March 4, 2010 3:19PM (EST)

The Rev. Al Sharpton, the civil rights leader who holds sway in the New York City community that's Gov. David Paterson's home and political base, is convening a group of black Democratic leaders there who could urge him to resign amid two misconduct scandals, a party adviser told The Associated Press on Thursday.

The adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said Sharpton is expected to say he's rethinking his support for New York's first black governor.

The meeting is set for Thursday night at a restaurant in Manhattan's Harlem neighborhood and follows a flurry of calls overnight in which many of the leaders reconsidered their support for Paterson. Those calls were also voiced in a similar summit Saturday in Harlem, although the group overall supported Paterson's plan to continue to serve. He had ended his campaign for a full term the day before.

"I still believe that he's entitled to the presumption of innocence, but as each day brings more severe reports, his ability to govern effectively is called into question," said a second prominent black leader in New York City who attended Saturday's meeting and is invited to Thursday's meeting.

"I got the impression that the seriousness of the charges against him has grown since the group met Saturday, and this presented an opportunity to re-evaluate or determine what is necessary to stake out another position if necessary," the leader said.

The second Democrat, who also spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said there is increased pressure on Paterson to either tell his side of the story, which the governor has said will exonerate him, or step aside.

Sharpton spokeswoman Rachel Noerdlinger confirmed the meeting but declined to comment further on Paterson. The leaders will also discuss issues including health care, education and jobs, she said.

Paterson represented Harlem for 20 years in the state Senate before becoming lieutenant governor in 2006, then governor in 2008, when Eliot Spitzer stepped down during a prostitution scandal.

The news about the Manhattan meeting contrasted with a statement Thursday by an organization of black police officers who stepped up to show support for Paterson. The group, 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, urged an end to what it called a "rush to judgment."

Still, the damage was mounting in the wake of the scandal plaguing Paterson over contact he and others in his administration had with a woman who had accused a top aide of domestic violence. At issue is whether Paterson or others urged the woman to drop her complaint.

Paterson was also accused Wednesday of breaking ethics laws when he sought and obtained free Yankees tickets for the 2009 World Series and then may have lied about his intention to pay for them, according to a state report.

He faces penalties of nearly $100,000, and the case was referred to the Albany County prosecutor's office and the state attorney general for possible criminal investigation into whether Paterson or anyone else gave false answers to questions by the Public Integrity Commission or backdated a check to pay for the tickets.

"The drum beat is awfully loud right now and not getting quieter," Lee Miringoff of the Marist College poll said Wednesday. He noted that the Yankees tickets case is clearer, and therefore potentially more of a threat to Paterson's job.

The ethics charge isn't directly related to the scandal over the aide. But the panel said the aide, David Johnson, was one of Paterson's four guests, along with Paterson's son and a son's friend, getting tickets for the Oct. 28 World Series game provided by the Yankees.

Four days later, also in the Bronx, Johnson was accused of domestic violence by his then-girlfriend, a case that now threatens Paterson's job and administration.

But the ticket scandal may ultimately be more damaging to the governor, especially given the timing.

"I, at all times, upheld the oath of my office and never at any point attempted to influence or coerce anyone to do anything they didn't want to do," Paterson told reporters Wednesday, saying he intends to fight the ethics charge.

Paterson told investigators that he always intended to pay the $850 for tickets for his son and the son's friend. They were paid for with a postdated check, and the governor paid for them only when confronted by a reporter for The New York Post, the report said.

In the other case, the office of state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is investigating whether Paterson or anyone from his staff or security detail influenced the woman's decision not to press charges after she told police that Johnson roughed her up.

"My side of the story will not be unsourced, it will not be in inaccurate, it will be the truth," Paterson said Wednesday, taking a swipe at some media reports.

The governor's chief of staff, Lawrence Schwartz, said Paterson was meeting with legislative leaders and staff Wednesday and that the fiscal crisis is Paterson's top priority. Paterson has no public events scheduled for Thursday.

"The governor is the governor," Schwartz said. "He's in charge."


Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Ula Ilnytzky and Colleen Long in New York and Valerie Bauman in Albany.

By Michael Gormley

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