David Paterson, New York's first black governor and a product of the Harlem political machine, faced rapidly waning support Thursday even among New York City's most influential black leaders, while his top spokesman resigned and said he couldn't "in good conscience continue."
The Rev. Al Sharpton convened a meeting of black politicians at a soul food restaurant in Harlem in an effort to craft a message asking Paterson to resign, according to a senior state Democrat briefed on the meeting.
A state panel accused Paterson on Wednesday of illegally obtaining World Series tickets, then lying about it. That charge came on top of an investigation of whether the governor or staff members had inappropriate contact with a woman who made — but later inexplicably dropped — an abuse complaint against an aide who had accompanied Paterson to the baseball game four days earlier.
Testimony by communications director Peter Kauffmann was key to the decision by the Public Integrity Commission to charge Paterson with an ethics violation. Kauffmann resigned Thursday, saying he "could not in good conscience continue in my current position."
The governor insists he is innocent, won't quit and will fight the ethics charges. His office didn't immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday.
A senior state Democrat told The Associated Press that party leaders in Harlem, the historically black strip of Manhattan north of Central Park, would meet Thursday night at Sylvia's restaurant, a neighborhood institution, in the hopes of crafting a "message calling for the governor to resign."
Thursday's meeting could play a large role in Paterson's fate, according to the Democrat who spoke to the AP. Harlem has been the base of power for black New York Democrats for decades, and its politicians still hold sway in the state.
A black Democratic adviser who also spoke on condition of anonymity said Sharpton is expected to say he's rethinking his support for Paterson. A Sharpton spokeswoman wouldn't comment on the matter Thursday.
At issue at the meeting are legislative proposals critical to the black and Latino communities and Paterson's ability to advocate for them, the adviser said.
Among the attendees, Sharpton said in a statement, are former Mayor David Dinkins; former state Comptroller and 2002 gubernatorial candidate Carl McCall; Hazel Dukes, former president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; and U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks of Queens.
Also planning to attend, according to the second Democratic leader, are U.S. Rep. Yvette Clarke of Brooklyn; state Senate President Malcolm Smith; Manhattan Democratic Chairman Keith Wright, a veteran assemblyman; Bronx Democratic Chairman Carl Heastie, an assemblyman; Assemblyman Michael Benjamin of the Bronx; Assemblyman Karim Camara of Brooklyn. Congressman Charles B. Rangel, who relinquished his House Ways and Means Committee chairmanship Wednesday because of ethics inquiries, isn't expected.
The New York branch of the National Organization for Women and some elected Democrats have been calling for Paterson's resignation. But Paterson found some rare support Thursday from an organization of black police officers, 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, that urged an end to what it called a "rush to judgment."
Kauffmann is the third top staffer to leave the administration over the scandals and, as he resigned, said in a statement: "As a former officer in the United States Navy, integrity and commitment to public service are values I take seriously."
Deputy Public Safety Secretary Denise O'Donnell abruptly quit Feb. 25, saying State Police Superintendent Harry Corbitt had assured her his agency was not involved in the confrontation involving Johnson. State Police later acknowledged contacting the woman.
Corbitt denied 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. He unexpectedly announced his retirement Tuesday, saying he was tired of the media attention.
A Paterson administration official previously told the AP that the governor directed Press Secretary Marissa Shorenstein to contact the woman who accused the aide of abuse — but only to seek her public statement. Kauffmann was Shorenstein's boss.
"Peter was loyal, hardworking and dedicated," said Paterson's chief of staff, Lawrence Schwartz. "He was smart and we respect his dedication to service. ... Everyone in the chamber that's worked with him wishes him the best of luck."
Kauffmann's testimony on the Yankees tickets was taken Tuesday, and the full report was issued two days later.
The governor's seeking and using the tickets for two aides, his son and his son's friend was a violation of the state's ban on gifts to officials by organizations doing business with the state, according to the commission.
Paterson represented Harlem for 20 years in the state Senate before becoming lieutenant governor in 2006, then governor in 2008, when Eliot Spitzer stepped down during a prostitution scandal.
Gormley reported from Albany. Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Ula Ilnytzky and Colleen Long in New York and Valerie Bauman in Albany.
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