Less than a week after declaring he would seek a full four-year term, New York Gov. David Paterson abruptly dropped his election bid Friday under pressure from Democrats concerned about his faltering agenda and criticism of his handling of a domestic abuse case involving a trusted aide.
At a news conference in New York City, Paterson cited an accumulation of distractions, but said he had never abused his office.
“But I am being realistic about politics,” he said. “It hasn’t been the latest distraction … It’s been an accumulation of obstacles that have obfuscated me from bringing my message to the public.”
Paterson insisted that he would not resign and said he would serve out his term “fighting for the state of New York.”
Paterson became governor in 2008, when former Gov. Eliot Spitzer resigned in a prostitution scandal. His decision to abandon the race paves the way for state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to make an unimpeded run for the Democratic nomination.
Paterson had publicly prided himself on beating the odds, including overcoming blindness to rise through treacherous New York politics. He formally announced his campaign just last weekend, and his decision to leave the race comes just 19 days short of his two-year anniversary as governor.
“He started out as a nice guy with the best wishes from everyone, and it just went downhill,” said Maurice Carroll of the Quinnipiac University poll. “As a personal story, it’s too bad because everyone who ever knew David Paterson liked him.”
Paterson has been weighed down by low approval numbers for months. His support within his own party was dwindling, and his campaign bank account paled in size to those of his rivals.
Cuomo, son of former Gov. Mario Cuomo, has already built a campaign fund five times larger than Paterson and consistently outpolls Paterson among New York Democrats, who hold a 2-to-1 edge over Republicans statewide.
Paterson’s problems intensified in recent weeks with a series of critical articles in The New York Times.
One report portrayed Paterson as distant and detached from the job, spending time hobnobbing with rich patrons instead of traveling the state seeking support for his agenda and his candidacy. In the article, current and former aides were critical of the governor for relying on a handful of loyalists instead of seasoned political pros.
Paterson started 2009 by bungling the appointment to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Hillary Clinton. Many Democrats, including the Kennedy family, were upset when he passed over Carolyn Kennedy. Then of Paterson’s aides leaked unsubstantiated rumors about her.
The last Times article, published Thursday, raised questions about how Paterson and state police officials responded to a domestic abuse complaint lodged against a trusted aide from Harlem, David Johnson. More than a decade ago, Paterson took Johnson on as an intern as part of his efforts to help young people ensnared in Harlem’s crack epidemic.
Court papers said state police may have pressured the woman to not level criminal charges against Johnson. The newspaper also said Paterson spoke with the woman personally, although the governor’s office said it was the woman who placed the call.
Renewed calls for Paterson’s exit were made hours after the story was published, including one from a longtime ally, Rep. Steve Israel. The Long Island Democrat said he felt compelled to tell his friend that he should not seek election to a full term.
On Wednesday, state Sen. Bill Perkins, the Democrat in Paterson’s old Harlem seat, said Paterson’s cabinet is “falling apart,” and his campaign was crippled.
“The crisis we are suffering in this state and in the community is being distracted by these reports and very, very serious allegations,” Perkins said. “What we are learning is unacceptable, and the viability of his candidacy is obviously crippling.”
Lee Miringoff of the Marist College poll said Paterson’s campaign “was going nowhere very quickly and the numbers couldn’t have been any more bleak for him before this.”
“Regardless of the legalities involved and this specific controversy, the odds of him taking the oath of office next January were very remote.”
Paterson was the scion of a Harlem political power base that included his father, former state Secretary of State Basil Paterson; the late Percy Sutton, who was Manhattan borough president; Rep. Adam Clayton Powell; former Mayor David Dinkins; and embattled U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel.
But Paterson, an affable, slightly built politician, was never really seen as gubernatorial in the eyes of legislators, lobbyists or voters. He was Senate minority leader when he was picked by Spitzer to be his running mate. Until he recently insisted on more formality, his staff and even rank-and-file lawmakers referred to him as “David.”
He had been forced to confront allegations of sexual affairs and drug use since the day he rose to office on March 17, 2008. He held an extraordinary news conference detailing past affairs he and his wife were involved in during an 18-month period when it appeared their marriage would end. He also recounted past drug use from his youth.
He said he made the extraordinary admissions so that he could not be compromised as governor and to avoid further fracturing of a government rocked by Spitzer’s resignation.
“We in public service and in life have all these great plans,” Paterson said at a press event in Queens in the fall. “There’s an old Jewish expression, I can’t quote it, that man plans and plans and plans and God laughs. Because things change in a moment … 24 hours in politics is a lifetime.”
Gormley reported from Albany. Associated Press writers Liz Sidoti in Washington and Valerie Bauman in Albany also contributed to this report.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.