If New York Gov. David Paterson (D) thinks the pressure is off now that he decided to end his campaign, he should think again.
Paterson's political career was over well before his Friday announcement. Taking over the governorship in March 2008, following the resignation of Eliot Spitzer (involved in a prostitution scandal), his numbers have been in the toilet for months. But of all the problems he had in attempting to run for a full term, none was worse than the latest one, which involves David Johnson, a top Paterson aide. Johnson was accused back in October of violently assaulting a woman, who then was allegedly pressured by Paterson's state security detail to drop the charges; the woman even received a phone call from the governor himself the day before she was about to go to court to get a final protective order against Johnson. What the governor said to her remains in some dispute. All we know for sure is that she failed to show up at the hearing, and the charges were dismissed.
Whatever you think of Spitzer — and the hypocrisy in that he prosecuted prostitutes while he was frequenting them — this seems far worse. We can debate this all you want, but the physical battering of a woman by someone close to the governor, and then having the administration pressure the woman to drop the charges ... well, to these ears that sounds unconscionable, if not criminal, especially in an administration that made battling dometic violence a top priority.
Spitzer resigned two days after his name was linked to the prostitution scandal.
But Paterson says he won't quit and instead will finish the 300-some-odd days left to his term.
That's not good enough for many Democratic officials, as well as the editorial page of the New York Daily News, which called for him to "step down immediately":
It is clear that the governor tolerated domestic abuse accusations against his closest confidante, and there is a suggestion that he joined state troopers in a campaign of witness tampering to shield the aide from prosecution.
In either case, Paterson has given cause to doubt his word and his judgment, breaking a fundamental bond with the public - the bond of trust.
Having demeaned his high office, having exposed a character flaw that plays out as a truth deficit, Paterson is punchline rather than punch. He does not have the capacity to confront the state's economic challenges. ...
Paterson's likability and hopes that he would lift New York out of the Eliot Spitzer's wreckage make calling for his departure painful. There is no other way. He must face reality. Intentions are of no moment when trust has been breached.
Daily News columnist Bill Hammond has no faith left in the governor:
You have no one to blame but yourself - and your second-cousin-twice-removed relationship with the truth. ...
It's up to Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to determine - in a probe that must continue even though you've dropped your delusional campaign for governor - if your behavior amounts to witness tampering.
Meanwhile, anyone who thought you were finally facing reality was sorely disappointed at your press conference.
Your proclamation: "I have never abused my office, not now, not ever," sounds like the great lies of political history, such as "I am not a crook," or "I did not have sex with that woman."
Pardon us, governor, if we don't take you at your word.
If he were to leave — voluntarily or otherwise — he would be succeeded by Lt. Gov. Richard Ravitch, whom Paterson appointed to the job last year. And Ravitch would be just the latest statewide Democratic official — along with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Comptroller Tom DiNapoli — to assume office via appointment and not election.
Conservative Richard Brownell, blogging at FrumForum, writes somewhat optimistically that Paterson's exit "opens the door for the GOP":
So now with Paterson out of the race, State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is the odds-on favorite for the Democratic nomination, and, at this point, the governorship. Republican candidate Rick Lazio, who spent a bit of time actually praising Paterson's fortitude with the moribund and corrupt state legislature, is so far silent on this issue. That's a good move. Lazio still trails Cuomo in all polls, but he is gaining in recognition, mostly because he represents a change.
Politically, change is what 2010 is all about. Cuomo is golden for Democrats, but he may have to step in as AG if/when it is determined that Paterson used his office to influence private affairs. If that is truly the case, then Lazio may have a short stairway to the top of the heap. And New York State right now is a heap. But fresh faces can do fresh things. We'll have to see how this unfolds.
I don't see it. Assuming Cuomo plays it safe, and doesn't make his investigation into the Paterson administration a ham-handed political circus, his position as the likely next governor will be even stronger. And Democrats will be able to breathe a sigh of relief.
This, by the way, is the way we always envisioned it. Long-time readers of this blog know that from the outset, our view was that Paterson never makes it out of the primary, either via retirement or defeat, and Cuomo becomes the nominee. This is exactly why Rudy Giuliani said no to a run for governor. He could very well have beaten David Paterson. But he can't beat Andrew Cuomo.