After theTimes ran its first two damaging stories, Governor David Paterson held a defiant campaign kickoff rally on Long Island, followed by feisty appearances in Rochester and Buffalo. He was supposed to end the tour with a crowning appearance in his political backyard, Harlem — but that event was pushed back, supposedly to allow more of Paterson's supporters to attend, until this Sunday. It's going to be a whole lot tougher for the governor to strike the media-victim pose after this morning's genuine Times bombshell. That is, if the Sunday event even happens at all: Democratic congressman Steve Israel called Paterson this morning and asked him to drop out of the race.
Israel won't be the last of Paterson's friends to make the suggestion. Whatever Paterson did or didn't know about the specifics of domestic-abuse allegations against his now-suspended top aide David Johnson, he admits to being well aware of "D.J."'s volatile history with women. So for Paterson, on February 7, to get on the phone with the woman in the middle of swirling rumors shows an appalling lack of political judgment. At best.
Paterson has asked attorney general Andrew Cuomo to investigate the governor's latest mess, a move that is either assisted political suicide or a wily, if desperate, maneuver intended to make whatever Cuomo does look selfish, given that Cuomo has all but officially declared his intention to run for governor. Today's developments, however, are still more confirmation of the cold wisdom of Cuomo's strategy of not doing anything overt in Paterson's direction, because he can count on Paterson imploding all by himself.
Clearly any violence committed against Johnson's ex-girlfriend is the most troubling aspect of this entire affair. But one of the disturbing collateral intrigues is the role of the state police. The troopers have been used, burned, and blamed in a string of tawdry episodes dating back to when the mysterious Daniel Wiese headed Governor George Pataki's security detail. Eliot Spitzer's administration put the troopers in the middle of its war with Joe Bruno; then the troopers missed Spitzer's dates with hookers, making them look either incompetent or complicit. One of Paterson's first pronouncements as governor was to claim that a "rogue unit" of troopers was out to get him, necessitating the self-outing of his drug use and extramarital affairs. A 2009 report by Cuomo dismissed the "rogue unit" claims, while criticizing the "Choppergate" conduct of the state police's top brass and praising its rank-and-file officers.
Lately the troopers' union head has been griping regularly to the Post about his members' pay and staffing, and Paterson's wife got into a murky wrangle about the troopers' presence in the Executive Mansion. Now the governor is trying to blame the troopers for harassing Johnson's ex-girlfriend when she pursued an order of protection. Is it likely the troopers made any such moves on their own?
Maybe the trooper troubles could be written off as just another tawdry Albany sidebar if there hadn't already been such tragic fallout. Gary Berwick had been head of the governor's security detail under Pataki and Spitzer, but he slid into despondency after retiring in 2008. "There's a lot of politics," he told friends. Then Berwick, 48, killed himself. Two years later, the political ugliness, unfortunately, continues unabated.