By Michael Gormley
ALBANY, N.Y. – The National Organization for Women last Tuesday urged New York Gov. David Paterson to resign because of a report he directed two staffers to contact a woman about a domestic violence case involving one of his top aides.
The group is highly influential in Democratic politics and called for the governor’s resignation despite what it considers Paterson’s “excellent” record of strong support for women’s issues and in combatting domestic violence.
Little more than a week ago, Patterson abruptly announced he would not run for a full-term as govenor. “It is inappropriate for the governor to have any contact or to direct anyone to contact an alleged victim of violence,” said Marcia Pappas, president of NOW New York State. “This latest news is very disappointing for those of us who believed the governor was a strong advocate for women’s equality and for ending violence against women.”
“It is now time for the governor to step down,” she said in the written statement.
There was no immediate comment from Paterson’s office. Some leading Democrats have said he should resign to avoid further damage to the party in the 2010 elections. Paterson has said he did nothing wrong and won’t resign.
Paterson called the state’s two top legislative leaders — Senate Majority Leader John Sampson and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, both Democrats — to the executive mansion Tuesday afternoon, but legislative officials familiar with the meeting would not say what the topic was. The officials, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly, said the leaders would not ask Paterson to resign.
Sherruna Booker told police she was roughed up on Halloween last year by Paterson aide David Johnson, her boyfriend at the time, but she decided not to press charges. At issue is whether Paterson or anyone from his staff or security detail influenced her decision.
Paterson has acknowledged that he spoke with Booker but said she initiated the call and that he did not try to get her to change her story or not pursue a charge.
The New York Times on Tuesday provided new details on Paterson’s involvement in the matter, reporting that the governor had personally directed two state employees to contact the woman.
State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo — often mentioned as a potential governor by the very critics dogging Paterson — is investigating the contacts, at Paterson’s request. Any criminal case will hinge on whether Paterson, staff members or state bodyguards tried to get Booker to change her story, making charges of witness tampering or obstructing justice possible.
Some Democratic lawmakers said that even if it turns out there was no effort to sway Booker, the situation gives the appearance of impropriety.
A Paterson administration official told the AP that one of the staff workers, press officer Marissa Shorenstein, was told by Paterson to contact Booker but only to seek her public statement. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak for Paterson.
The other employee told to contact Booker was Deneane Brown, a friend of Booker and Paterson who works in the state Division of Housing and Community Renewal. The Times, citing unnamed officials, reported she reached out to Booker to arrange a phone call with Paterson. The administration official wouldn’t comment on Brown’s role.
After that Feb. 8 call, Booker failed to appear in court against Johnson and the domestic violence case that was building against him was dropped.
The administration official told the AP that Shorenstein’s role was “very limited.”
On last Monday, the Democratic governor said he retains the authority to govern and would serve out his term, which has less than 10 months left.
Paul DerOhannesian, a defense attorney and former prosecutor, said last week that trying to induce someone not to testify in court can constitute witness tampering, and any perceived threat of harm can be intimidation.
One of the governor’s longtime friends, Democratic Sen. Bill Perkins, said in an interview last Monday that if Paterson believes Cuomo’s investigation will find he engaged in illegal or improper behavior that could force his resignation, the governor should consider resigning now.
NOW has been influential in past scandals, including the ultimate resignation of Paterson’s predecessor, Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who was named in a prostitution investigation. Paterson was lieutenant governor at the time and ascended upon Spitzer’s departure.