Governor David Paterson said Friday he will not seek a second term in office, bowing to mounting pressure amid a burgeoning scandal and calls for his resignation as New York state's chief executive.
"Today I am announcing that I am ending my campaign for governor," Paterson said during a news conference at his Manhattan office yesterday. "I cannot run for office and try and manage the state's business at the same time."
But Paterson vowed that he would not resign despite the alleged disgrace -- and possible illegality -- of interfering into a police investigation of domestic violence assault involving his close friend, advisor and one-time aide David Johnson.
"I have never abused my office, not now, not ever," said Paterson raising his hand as if taking an oath.
"I believe that when the facts are reviewed the truth will prevail," said Paterson of the probe. "There are 308 days left in my term, I will serve every one of them fighting for the people of New York."
Paterson who stumbled into the office on the heels of a sex scandal that took down Eliot Spitzer, said his decision was based on many factors -- not just the bombshell report that suggested his administration tampered with the domestic violence probe.
"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."
But despite the announcement, top Democratic officials in Washington told NBCNewYork that Paterson dropping his campaign for a full term does not go far enough -- and that Paterson needs to step down immediately.
In fact, newly-elected City Comptroller John Liu wasted no time in renewing calls for the governor's resignation, releasing a press release only moments after the governor's speech.
"We have a $4.1 billion budget deficit to grapple with in New York City and cannot make real progress until the State budget is resolved on time one month from now," said Liu. "In order for this to happen, we need Governor Paterson to step down now."
Meanwhile Attorney General Andrew Cuomo -- the new frontrunner to win the Democrat nod for governor, and who also happens to be looking into the current adminstration's actions -- still refused to say whether he is running.
"It is in the best interests of all New Yorkers that the state government function through this difficult time and address the pressing budgetary problems we face" Cuomo said in a statement. "This is an election year and I will announce my plans at the appropriate time. In the meantime, I will continue to focus on my job as Attorney General."
Behind the scenes, Democratic officials are said to be wrangling over the best way to handle the fiasco. Some Democrats -- including those the Obama administration, according to sources -- want Paterson to step down immediately because they fear the ongoing scandal will harm other Democratic candidates in statewide races.
Other Democrats feel Paterson is best left in office to act as a lightening rod, and to set up Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, an all but announced gubernatorial candidate, as a knight in shining armor who can ride into Albany and save the day.
But it has become increasingly clear that the governor cannot hold on to whatever scraps of power and dignity he had left as Attorney General Andrew Cuomo announced on Thursday that he would investigate whether the administration or state police committed a crime in talking to a woman who had filed a domestic violence report against a top aide to Paterson.
The woman's allegations are indeed damning.
"I have problems with even calling the police because state troopers kept calling me and harassing me to drop the charges and I wouldn't," said the woman. (You can listen to the woman at the center of the scandal describe the alleged interference in her own words in exclusive audio obtained by NBCNewYork.)
To make matters worse, Paterson's top criminal justice Cabinet member, Denise O'Donnell, resigned Thursday over the burgeoning scandal, saying conduct by the state police was "distressing" for an administration that has devoted itself to reducing domestic violence.
This latest scandal broke on Wednesday night, when The New York Times dropped a bombshell story that details a violent confrontation between longtime Paterson adviser David Johnson and a woman over her Halloween costume. Johnson allegedly ripped the woman's clothes off and slammed her against a dresser.
The state police and the governor spoke with the woman, possibly interfering with a criminal probe of a domestic violence case. Paterson's office acknowledges he talked to the woman but says she placed the call, and a spokesman for the governor denied anyone tried to keep the woman from pursuing a domestic violence case.
The state police said in a news release that they won't comment on any aspect of the case during the investigation. The Paterson administration asked Cuomo's office to investigate the matter, and the attorney general's office said it would look into whether crimes or other wrongdoing were committed. The state police said Cuomo asked the agency not to open its own internal probe.
Criminal Justice Services Commissioner O'Donnell abruptly quit Thursday afternoon, saying state police Superintendent Harry Corbitt had assured her his agency was not involved in the confrontation involving Johnson.
Corbitt denies misleading O'Donnell. He said that he told her state police weren't involved in the investigation, not that they hadn't contacted the woman.
Johnson, 37, has worked for Paterson for more than a decade, beginning when Paterson was a state senator. Johnson began as an intern as part of Paterson's effort to help youths with arrest records stemming from the crack epidemic in Harlem at the time.
New York City Police returned to the home on Nov. 4 on a follow-up visit as part of their domestic violence prevention program. No other incidents were reported. She had no visible injuries and was not taken to a hospital. On Nov. 9, police served David Johnson with an order of protection.
Two people familiar with the investigation identified the woman as Sherruna Booker, 40, with a home address in the Bronx. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. No telephone number was listed for her.
Her lawyer told The Associated Press Thursday in an e-mail that he would have a statement soon but did not elaborate. He declined repeated attempts to reach him by telephone and visits to his office and home.