Governor Paterson Will Not Seek Another Term: Sources

David Paterson will make the announcement today at 3 pm

By Melissa Russo and Michael Clancy
|  Thursday, Mar 4, 2010  |  Updated 2:33 PM EDT
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Less than a week after he announced his election campaign, <a title=David Paterson is losing political allies and staff." />

Less than a week after he announced his election campaign, David Paterson is losing political allies and staff.

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In the face of mounting pressure, a burgeoning scandal and calls for his resignation, Governor David Paterson will not seek a second term in office, a top Democratic official told NBC News.

Paterson is expected to make the announcement at a press conference today at his Manhattan offices at 3:30. The governor's office and his campaign have been completely silent on the issue, but sources said Paterson's bid for another term is done.

"The governor isn't feeling pushed out," said another person who talked with the governor about his decision and who spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity because Paterson hadn't yet announced why he was ending the campaign. "He certainly realizes it's very difficult to do a campaign and govern, and the focus now is on governing and the best interests of the state."

But despite the planned announcement, top Democratic officials in Washington told NBCNewYork that Paterson's plan to drop his campaign for a full term does not got far enough -- and that Paterson needs to step down immediately.

Behind the scenes, Democratic officials are 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. 

Yesterday in a hastily called press conference,  the embattled governor had insisted that was not suspending his campaign, but wavered for the first time, saying he is talking to fellow Democrats "to hear their opinion."

"I want to keep an open mind about this," Paterson said, demonstrating weakness for the first time as members of his own party, including the Obama administration, are pressuring him to step out of the race.

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 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.)

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.

On Wednesday night, 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 alleged ripped the woman's clothes off and slammed her against a dresser.

The state police and quite possibly the governor spoke with the woman, interferring 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.

Paterson's office had no immediate comment about O'Donnell's resignation or on increasing pressure for him to call off his candidacy. Paterson has been resisting calls from fellow Democrats not to seek a full term, and some saw O'Donnell's departure as a sign the administration was tottering.

"That's a very serious blow," state Sen. Bill Perkins, a Democrat who represents Paterson's old state Senate district in Manhattan's Harlem neighborhood, said of O'Donnell's departure. "She has been loyal, so the Cabinet, so to so speak, is falling apart."

Perkins is among top Democrats who want the governor to end his candidacy for a full term this fall. Paterson was lieutenant governor when Eliot Spitzer's resignation in a prostitution scandal elevated him in March 2008.

"What we are learning is unacceptable, and the viability of his candidacy is obviously crippling," Perkins told The Associated Press, calling the reports "very, very serious allegations."

Rep. Steve Israel, a fellow Democrat and longtime congressional member from Long Island, said it's time for friends to be straight with Paterson.

"I think it's become apparent that he should not seek election and should announce it soon," Israel said. "And sometimes friends have to speak unpleasant truths."

Rep. Nita Lowey, a Westchester Democrat, said that if "these very serious allegations" are true, "the governor should no longer be in office."

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, considered the most powerful official in Albany, said he wants an investigation of the role of the governor and state police in the Johnson matter.

"That investigation must address at whose direction and with whose knowledge members of the governor's security detail were acting when they contacted the victim," Silver said.

O'Donnell said in a written statement that it doesn't matter to her what was said in the contact with the woman.

"The fact that the governor and members of the state police have acknowledged direct contact with a woman who had filed for an order of protection against a senior member of the governor's staff is a very serious matter," she said. "These actions are unacceptable regardless of their intent."

The behavior is "particularly distressing" for an administration that prides itself in combatting domestic violence, she said Thursday, adding that she wrote to Paterson that she couldn't "in good conscience" remain in his administration.

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 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.

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