As New York Gov. David Paterson tried to reassert his authority to govern for the remainder of his term, an investigation of his administration stormed ahead, making even the governor's long-term friends wonder whether his time in office might end much sooner.
"I have the authority to govern," Paterson declared Monday in his first public comments since ending his campaign on Friday because of a scandal under investigation by Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's office. The probe addresses whether Paterson and members of his state police security detail illegally contacted a woman who accused one of his top aides of domestic violence.
New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said the officers who handled the Oct. 31 domestic violence report spoke to Cuomo's investigators Monday. He said it was part of the investigation into contacts with the woman who made the report but ultimately didn't pursue charges against Paterson aide David Johnson.
Kelly said police had been to the Bronx home of 40-year-old Sherruna Booker three times: once on Halloween; once to check in after the incident, but she wasn't home; and finally when she told officers that Johnson had been served with a restraining order.
Calls to Johnson's and Booker's lawyers were not returned.
Paterson said Friday that he ended his campaign for a full term because the scandal was too great a distraction from his mission to pull the state's finances out of crisis.
One of the governor's longtime friends, Democratic Sen. Bill Perkins, said Monday that if Paterson believes Cuomo's investigation will find he engaged in illegal or improper behavior that could force his resignation, the governor should consider quitting now.
"My position is, normally, let the investigation run its course," said Perkins, who represents Paterson's old district in Manhattan's Harlem neighborhood. "Unfortunately, these are not normal times and clearly the state is in the midst of a fiscal crisis — even worse, a crisis of confidence — and I believe it's putting our Democrats in jeopardy."
Perkins said the governor knows what he did or didn't do and should act on that now. He said he won't rule out asking the governor to resign after seeing Cuomo's findings.
"The governor knows ... who he talked to, who gave orders to the state police that might have contacted the woman who was a victim," he said. "If this investigation turns out the way many suspect, then obviously his resignation is inevitable. ... Maybe it's in the best interests of the state to cut bait now."
Other top Democrats watching developments are starting to question whether Paterson will be able to serve the less than a year left in his term.
"My greatest fear is the next shoe will drop, and the situation further deteriorates both in terms of the governor's future and the direction of the Legislature in getting this budget passed," said Assemblyman Ronald Canestrari, majority leader of the Assembly.
Legislative leaders supported Paterson's continued role in governor, for now.
"Why should he resign?" asked Democratic Senate Majority Leader John Sampson. Sampson, a Paterson ally from Brooklyn, said that the allegations against him haven't been substantiated and that Cuomo's investigation should be completed before any action is taken.
"I don't know what the results of an investigation will produce," said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, also a Democrat. "Until the facts are out, you should hold onto your power. ... Ultimately, it's probably his decision."
For his part, Paterson was resolute Monday.
"I already have the authority," Paterson said. "I'm the governor."
When asked whether his resignation was off the table, Paterson said, "I would think it's off the table. I don't even know why it's on the table."
He also said, "There are plenty of governors who in their last year in office, who are term-limited governors ... who have been able to accomplish a lot."
Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, a fellow Democrat, said later that he doesn't think "anyone knows" whether Paterson can be a viable governor.
"I'm not going to spend a lot of time speculating about it, because he is the governor and we have to get on with the problems of the people of New York," Brodsky said.
"The speculation by both the political class and the press are doing a terrible disservice to the state," said Brodsky, of Westchester, north of New York City. "It's enough already."
State Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs, close to Paterson, said the governor shouldn't step down if there are no more damaging reports. He's advising Democrats to "take a deep breath, work with the governor and his team and hammer some compromises to keep the state solvent. That's how elected officials are going to be judged in November."
Paterson said abandoning his campaign frees him to govern and address a deficit of more than $8 billion in the upcoming state budget.
"I can make decisions and I won't have to hear a robotic response from the Legislature that 'he's doing this for politics, he's doing this to get his poll numbers up, he's running against the Legislature because we're more unpopular than he is,'" Paterson said.
Paterson was lieutenant governor when he succeeded Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who resigned in a prostitution scandal.
Associated Press writers Ula Ilnytzky and Colleen Long in New York and Valerie Bauman in Albany contributed to this report.
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