ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York Gov. David Paterson fell under fresh pressure Thursday to drop his run for a full term after a report of a domestic abuse complaint against a top aide and questions about whether the governor was out of line for contacting the aide’s girlfriend before the case was dropped.
Rep. Steve Israel, a fellow Democrat and longtime congressional member from Long Island, told The Associated Press that he called Paterson early Thursday, urging him to drop his bid.
“I think it’s become apparent that he should not seek election and should announce it soon,” Israel said. “And sometimes friends have to speak unpleasant truths.”
Israel said he reminded the governor that there is “life after Albany.” Israel declined to say what Paterson’s response was or share other details of the call. Paterson spokesman Peter Kauffmann declined to comment.
The call came after a New York Times report linked a top aide to a claim of domestic violence involving a former girlfriend.
The confrontation stems from a Halloween 2009 argument between the aide, David Johnson, and a woman, according to a police report. The woman told police Johnson was angry about her costume, choked her and tried to rip the clothing from her body.
Johnson wasn’t present when police arrived. The call was treated as a second-degree harassment, a misdemeanor, rather than a higher charge of assault because police had no proof she was injured. A domestic violence report was issued, but no criminal charges were brought.
Paterson suspended Johnson without pay on Wednesday and asked Attorney General Andrew Cuomo — whom many Democrats would rather see in the race than Paterson — to investigate. The Times article, quoting court papers, said state police may have pressured the woman to not level criminal charges against Johnson.
“Serious questions have been raised about contact the state police may have had with a private citizen who filed a complaint against a member of my staff,” Paterson said in a statement released to the AP Wednesday night. “Any allegation of improper influence must be investigated thoroughly and completely.”
Paterson also spoke with the woman personally, although the governor’s office said it was the woman who placed the call. State police didn’t respond to requests for comment by the AP.
There was no immediate comment from spokesmen for Cuomo, who is widely expected to run for governor this year and has gotten far more support for a speculated bid than Paterson has for his actual one.
Paul DerOhannesian, a defense lawyer and former prosecutor in Albany County, said the case as reported so far is murky on whether Paterson could be accused of a crime.
“A phone call by itself is not tantamount to obstruction,” he said. “It depends on what was said and how it was received.”
Keith L. Wright, a Democratic state assemblyman from Manhattan, said he isn’t pushing Paterson on any course of action on whether to continue his campaign.
“I will say you have to keep your own counsel and if you think you are doing the right thing, you have to keep it moving,” Wright said. “There have been a lot of folks who asked him not to run or step down, and he has not budged.”
Paterson was lieutenant governor when his boss, Eliot Spitzer, resigned in a prostitution scandal.
Johnson, 37, has worked for Paterson for more than a decade, beginning when Paterson was a state senator representing Manhattan’s Harlem neighborhood. Johnson began as an intern as part of Paterson’s effort to provide a second chance to youths with arrest records stemming from the crack epidemic in Harlem at the time.
Johnson, who stands 6 feet 7, has been at Paterson’s side during his tenure as governor and has risen from a lower-level staffer to a confidant. Johnson had a previous drug arrest when he was younger, for which he served probation.
Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Michael Virtanen and Michael Hill in Albany, and Colleen Long in New York City.