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NY governor abandons bid for full, 4-year term

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[February 27, 2010]  NEW YORK (AP) -- Calling himself an everyday fighter, Gov. David Paterson quietly put an end to the talk that he would prolong his long-shot bid to stay in office, hoping to stave off a string of critics who said he was a failed leader with fading support.

HardwareBut the announcement that the governor for 300-plus more days won't seek election may not be enough to quiet growing questions and a criminal investigation into Paterson's handling of an abuse complaint against a top aide.

Andrew Cuomo, the Democrat who will likely run for the office Paterson will leave, is heading a probe into whether the Paterson administration, and the governor himself, improperly intervened in a domestic violence case involving one of Paterson's most trusted aides, David Johnson.

At his announcement Friday, Paterson was characteristically defiant when addressing his role in how the domestic violence case was handled by the administration.

Raising his right hand beside his wife, Michelle, he told a crowded press room: "I give you this personal oath. I have never abused my office. Not now, not ever. I believe that when the facts are reviewed, the truth will prevail."

While politicians from both parties wouldn't say the governor should resign because of the scandal, the city's leading tabloids called for his ouster in front-page editorials Friday.

"Time to go, Dave," the New York Post said in its headline. The New York Daily News said that Paterson had "demeaned his high office" and was not trustworthy.

Paterson insisted that he would not resign and pledged to serve out his term "fighting for the state of New York."

Paterson took office amid the prostitution scandal that ended Eliot Spitzer's term, defiantly introducing himself to legislators at his swearing in, declaring: "I am David Paterson and I am the governor of New York!" Lawmakers cheered and welcomed the collegial former senator, especially after Spitzer's hardball tactics that alienated many of them. But two years later, his agenda was stalled, lawmakers disregarded him and he was sinking in the polls.

On Friday, Paterson cited a litany of distractions that prompted him to end his campaign.

"It's been an accumulation of obstacles that have obfuscated me from bringing my message to the public," he said.


There seemed to be one crisis after another: a bungled appointment to an open U.S. Senate seat, a budget standoff with the state Legislature, and, just this week, a damaging New York Times report, which said the governor and a member of his security detail had contacted a woman pressing an abuse charge against a top Paterson aide.

"He started out as a nice guy with the best wishes from everyone, and it just went downhill," said Maurice Carroll of the Quinnipiac University poll. "As a personal story, it's too bad because everyone who ever knew David Paterson liked him."

Politicians from both parties praised the governor's decision.

"I'm sure that he could have continued his campaign, but he did the right thing," said Jay Jacobs, the state Democratic party chairman. "We will not have a divisive primary at the top of the ticket."

Paterson's decision to abandon the race paved the way for state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to make an unimpeded run for the Democratic nomination.

Cuomo, son of former Gov. Mario Cuomo, has already built a campaign fund five times larger than Paterson and consistently outpolled Paterson among New York Democrats, who hold a 2-to-1 edge over Republicans statewide. But he has declined to say whether he will run for governor.

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Cuomo released a statement Friday saying only that he was focusing on his job as attorney general and would announce his plans "at the appropriate time."

The only announced GOP candidate in the race, former congressman Rick Lazio, called Paterson's announcement "another sad chapter in New York state government. It's dysfunctional, it's broken and it doesn't work."

Paterson's problems intensified in recent weeks with a series of critical articles in the Times.

One report portrayed Paterson as distant and detached from the job, spending time hobnobbing with rich patrons instead of traveling the state seeking support for his agenda and his candidacy. In the article, current and former aides were critical of the governor for relying on a handful of loyalists instead of seasoned political pros.

At Friday's news conference, the governor repeatedly portrayed himself as a victim of a hostile press corps.


"I was very disturbed that for three weeks, unsubstantiated rumors ... lined the front pages of a lot of the newspapers and demanded a lot of coverage," he said.

Ultimately, it was the scandal surrounding Johnson that brought Paterson down. More than a decade ago, Paterson took Johnson on as an intern as part of his efforts to help young people ensnared in Harlem's crack epidemic.

In court, the woman had complained that the state police were pressuring her not to level criminal charges against Johnson, according to a transcript. The newspaper also said Paterson spoke with the woman personally, although the governor's office said it was the woman who placed the call.

Paterson suspended Johnson and called for Cuomo's office to investigate his administration's handling of the matter.

At the White House - which had called earlier for Paterson to drop out of the 2010 race - press secretary Robert Gibbs on Friday called the recent reports "disturbing" and said "it's safe to say" that they vindicate the administration's earlier position.

Paterson was the scion of a Harlem political power base that included his father, former state Secretary of State Basil Paterson; the late Percy Sutton, who was Manhattan borough president; Rep. Adam Clayton Powell; former Mayor David Dinkins; and embattled Rep. Charles Rangel.

On Friday, he talked about what he hoped would be his legacy, citing his work to eradicate the Rockefeller drug laws, tighten spending, and raise the involvement of female- and minority-owned companies in state contracting.

"I hope that history will remember that I fought the good fight," he said, "that I did what was hard, and I put the people first."


Gormley reported from Albany. Associated Press writers Liz Sidoti and Jennifer Loven in Washington, Valerie Bauman in Albany and Cristian Salazar in New York also contributed to this report.

[Associated Press; By DAVID B. CARUSO and MICHAEL GORMLEY]

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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