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NY governor's top spokesman quits amid scandal
NY Governor Heal
New York Gov. David Paterson listen to a speaker during a legislative leaders' budget meeting at the Capitol in Albany, N.Y., on Wednesday, March 3, 2010. - photo by Associated Press

ALBANY, N.Y. - The top spokesman for Gov. David Paterson resigned Thursday, saying he couldn't "in good conscience continue" in his job, becoming the third key administration member to jump ship as the governor faces two misconduct investigations and increasing calls for him to quit.

"As a former officer in the United States Navy, integrity and commitment to public service are values I take seriously," Peter Kauffmann stated in a brief statement. "Unfortunately, as recent developments have come to light, I cannot in good conscience continue in my current position."

Kauffmann's testimony and e-mails were critical in a charge by the state Public Integrity Commission that Paterson illegally obtained World Series tickets, then lied about it. The commission found Kauffmann's testimony was credible and backed up by e-mails at the time that showed Paterson's story changed about whether he intended to pay for the Yankees tickets he sought.

Paterson is also being investigated by the state attorney general's office over contact with a woman who made a domestic violence complaint - later dropped without explanation - against the same aide who accompanied Paterson to the World Series.

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.

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.

Meanwhile, a senior state Democrat told The Associated Press that black party leaders in Paterson's New York City neighborhood would meet Thursday night in the hopes of crafting a "message calling for the governor to resign."

The meeting could play a large role in the fate of New York's first black governor, according to the Democrat, who was briefed on the meeting and spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

A black Democratic adviser who also spoke on condition of anonymity said the Rev. Al Sharpton is expected to say he's rethinking his support for Paterson.

The defection and comments about tonight's meeting Harlem contrasted with a statement Thursday by an organization of black police officers who stepped up to show support for Paterson. The group, 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, urged an end to what it called a "rush to judgment."

Thursday night's meeting "presented an opportunity to re-evaluate or determine what is necessary" in determining support for Paterson, said a prominent black leader in New York City who attended Saturday's meeting and is invited to Thursday's.

The Democrat, who also spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said there is increased pressure on Paterson either to tell his side of the story, which the governor has said will exonerate him, or to step aside.

The Democrat said the meeting is a chance to determine if Paterson can "credibly weather this storm ... If not, some hard decisions have to be made."

At issue are legislative proposals critical to the black and Latino communities and Paterson's ability to advocate for them, the Democrat said.

The New York branch of the National Organization for Women and some elected Democrats have been calling for Paterson's resignation.

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.

A Paterson administration official previously told The Associated Press 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.

Kauffmann's testimony on the Yankees tickets was taken Tuesday, and the full report was issued two days later.

"Peter will 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."

He is the third top staffer to leave the administration over the scandals.

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.

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.


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