Gov. David Paterson today responded publicly -- and aggressively -- to unconfirmed rumors about his personal behavior in office and whispers he would soon resign, saying he will only be leaving the governor's mansion if he is voted out -- or dead.
Speaking to a room of reporters in Albany today, the embattled governor said "the only way I'm not going to be governor next year is at the ballot box and the only way I'll be leaving office before is in a box."
He then quickly turned and left the room.
The dramatic moment came at the end of a contentious news conference that was originally supposed to address the strong snow storm headed for the New York area.
But Gov. Paterson instead took time to address rumors swirling for the past few weeks about his alleged womanizing and drug use, calling such tales "completely fabricated."
Paterson denounced a Jan. 30 New York Post report that he was caught by state police in the mansion with a woman other than his wife. The Post has said it stands by its story.
"There is not one shred of evidence about these rumors that were true," he said, adding that state troopers aren't even allowed in the mansion.
Paterson also fielded questions about an upcoming New York Times profile that rumor has it will be so laden with scandal it will force his resignation.
He said there were never any questions from the Times that he thought could imperil his political career. For its part, the Times said it a statement it isn't responsible for what other news organizations report.
Later, The Secretary to the governor released a public letter to the editor of the New York Times, that stated the office's "deep disappointment" the paper has kept mum through the rumors.
"At any point, the Times' editors could have easily issued a public statement clarifying that the profile neither contained nor supported the salacious stories being sourced to it."
Paterson said he didn't think it was a coincidence the rumors started as election preparations ramp up and Albany debates how to deal with a massive budget shortfall. "The rumors started simultaneous to the election but I am not trying to implicate anyone... after what I've been through I'm not going to blame anyone else," he said.
He called the rumors both "a shame" and "irresponsible" and "in some cases, straight out lies." When asked about his scandalous predecessor, Eliot Spitzer, who resigned amid a prostitution scandal, Paterson said he was "disappointed" by the question, "given whatever went on with my former running mate, it had nothing to do with my life."
When he first took office, Paterson and his wife admitted to previous extramarital affairs. Paterson said today that they did that in the spirit of full disclosure and honesty with the public.
"I thought it was the responsible thing to do," he said.
Meanwhile, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, who has become many Democrats' preferred candidate for governor in 2010, refused to comment Tuesday on the unsubstantiated tales. Cuomo's office also won't comment on whether he supports Paterson in his battle.
"We don't comment on rumors,'' a Cuomo spokesman said. "There are serious problems facing our state and the attorney general is busy doing the job he was elected to do.''
Paterson said today that he's more determined than ever to run for election, even amid faltering support and low poll numbers.
"The more frustrated I get, the more I know I will be running," he said.
Earlier in the day, a Republican candidate for governor came to Paterson's side.
"The Capitol is paralyzed by rumor and innuendo, and somehow we need to get past that and focus on the basic problems that people care about,'' former Congressman Rick Lazio said. "I don't think anyone trying to get their job done deserves this kind of phantom threat.''
Democratic leaders wouldn't comment on Paterson or the rumors that have undermined him as he confronts the Legislature over the state budget, an ethics bill he vetoed and the awarding of a contract for video slot machines at Aqueduct race track.
Senate Conference Leader John Sampson, a Brooklyn Democrat at odds with Paterson in legislative fights, declined to comment, as did Democratic Senator Charles Schumer. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
"I think these rumors are awful,'' said Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, a Canandaigua Republican. "I actually feel sorry for the governor in this case. "It doesn't do any good except for those seeking to gain from destroying, and that's not us.''
Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, a Brooklyn Democrat, said the rumors have become a "feeding frenzy'' in the media, targeting a governor who has faced fiscal crisis, fights with special interests, and battles with legislative leaders.
"It is clear Gov. Paterson has been dealt a very difficult hand,'' Jeffries said. "The episode at this point has been unfair.''
"It's a great distraction,'' said Assemblyman Karim Camara, a Brooklyn Democrat. He said Albany needs to deal with the accusations and "get back to governing the state.''