ALBANY, N.Y. — New York Gov. David Paterson on Monday lashed back at what he called a “callous and sleazy” assault on his character in statehouse rumors and media reports that include accusations about womanizing and drug use, allegations he flatly denied.
The Democratic governor told The Associated Press that the media and New York politics have hit new lows, but that the situation won’t stop him from serving in office or seeking election to a full term in the fall.
He cited as fabricated a Jan. 30 New York Post report that he was caught by state police in the mansion with a woman other than his wife. He said the room in which he was reportedly caught doesn’t even exist.
“We stand by our reporting,” Post spokeswoman Suzi Halpin said.
The rumors about Paterson’s personal conduct have been circulating in Albany – and sometimes appearing online and in newspaper reports – at a crucial moment in the governor’s career. His popularity has fallen precipitously, but he has vowed to run for re-election, even though many Democrats would prefer the state attorney general, Andrew Cuomo, to run in his place.
Washington Democrats have sent a clear message that Paterson should step aside for Cuomo. They are concerned that a weak top of the ticket could hurt other Democrats, including Kirsten Gillibrand, whom Paterson appointed to fill the seat vacated when Hillary Rodham Clinton became secretary of state.
In his interview with the AP, Paterson would address most allegations only broadly but denied all sexual relationships and drug use that are among the accusations.
He said he hasn’t been involved sexually with another woman since he and his wife separated more than a decade ago, an admission he made upon taking office 23 months ago. He also said he hasn’t used drugs since his early 20s.
Paterson said the rumors have portrayed him as a fan of frequent partying, but he said that aside from fundraisers and official functions, he doesn’t go out much – and noted that he has eaten away from home or outside the executive mansion in Albany only five times in his tenure.
“For the last couple of weeks I have been the subject of what, even by Albany standards, has been a spate of outrageous rumors about me,” Paterson told the AP.
He said the rumors had been stirred up by an as-yet unpublished New York Times investigation “that spawned a bunch of speculations that are so way out that it’s shocking,” he said. He said he now fears that all reporters are “stretching the bounds of journalism” in a race to get anyone to confirm a vicious rumor about him.
New York Times spokeswoman Diane McNulty declined to comment on the governor’s remarks.
“There is an accountability that should exist in the media,” Paterson said. “How do I get my reputation back? Because I don’t believe I have done anything to deserve this kind of bashing.”
He said it has distracted him from the state’s fiscal crisis and tense budget negotiations with legislators, and from defending his veto of what he considers the Legislature’s weak ethics reforms.
He said he is unsure who pushed the rumors and wouldn’t speculate, saying “that would be just as unfair … but it is certainly serving others’ interest and not mine, and I think it’s a callous and sleazy way to treat a governor who is just trying to do his job and, in a democracy, is trying to keep his job.”
Paterson ascended to the job in 2008 when Eliot Spitzer resigned amid a prostitution scandal. When he became governor, Paterson admitted he had been unfaithful to his wife in an attempt to head off questions about his personal life.
He said he doesn’t think he was targeted because he is New York’s first black governor, but acknowledged that the allegations played to stereotypes about black men.
State Police Superintendent Harry Corbitt said Monday that he’s unaware of any troopers, including Paterson’s security detail, who have seen the governor do anything illegal.
After testifying before lawmakers Monday, Corbett described rumors of a looming scandal as “a move afoot” to pressure the Democrat into not running for election this fall.
Corbitt, who was nominated for his post by Paterson in 2008, says the transfers last week of about 10 troopers from the executive services detail, which protects the governor and guards the executive mansion and some state offices has nothing to do with press reports suggesting women and drug use at the mansion.