The Paterson Case: A Breakdown of Morality in Government

The abuse of power may not rise to a criminal level but it is immoral

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Governor David Paterson

    Governor David Paterson has been cleared of criminal charges in a domestic violence dispute in which one of his aides was involved.

    But the full report of the investigation by former Chief Judge Judith Kaye makes clear in scathing terms a form of corruption that may not be criminal -- but should be offensive to every New Yorker. Some people who have worked for the governor have shown arrogance -- and behaved in a way that shows disrespect for law and order.

    Paterson and his advisers were cleared of criminal charges in the way they handled the domestic violence case involving his aide, David Johnson, and Johnson’s girlfriend, Sherr-una Booker. Paterson personally got in touch with the woman and asked her to help him avoid political fallout from the situation.

    It seems inexcusable that Paterson, for years a strong advocate of actions to deal with domestic violence, actually intervened in this matter. Yet his lawyer said the governor was pleased that Judge Kaye had exonerated him of any criminal charges. Judge Kaye also recommended that the Bronx DA consider charges against Johnson.

    The Kaye report leaves certain questions unanswered. Why did the major in charge of the governor’s security detail ask her to let the state police resolve the case? Why did a senior adviser to Paterson call a friend of Booker at least six times to ask her to try to discourage the woman from pursuing the case? What were the circumstances in the resignation of Paterson’s communications director -- did she quit abruptly because she was asked to lie?

    The circumstances are ugly and, if anything, the whole case points up one hazard of occupying high office.  Not only the chief executive but the people who report to him are tempted to intervene in matters unrelated directly to their jobs.

    Much has been written about the arrogance of power. Over the years I’ve observed it close up. At the White House, Albany and City Hall I’ve seen young kids transformed temporarily into monsters. Being that close to the levers of power can corrupt people.  Not that this applies to everyone. 

    Most of the young people and the older people who take political jobs, I have found, are idealistic and decent.  But there’s this minority that thinks it can get away with pushing people around or, in this particular matter, possibly trying to cover things up.

    Lord Acton said: “Power corrupts.”  And there’s proof of that in the Paterson case -- and many other episodes in government.  Corruption doesn’t necessarily mean criminality. The abuse of power may not rise to a criminal level but it is immoral and abhorrent.