ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — A day after his predecessor's sex scandal propelled him into office, Gov. David Paterson revealed this week that he had affairs with a “number of women,” including a state employee, but said that does not affect his ability to lead.
Paterson had admitted one affair in a newspaper interview hours after taking office Monday, March 17, but gave a fuller accounting at a news conference on Tuesday, March 18 with his wife at his side.
“Several years ago, there were a number of women,” Paterson said. “The public wants to know who its elected officials are and sometimes, even though you are human, and you are someone who just has feelings and has faults, there comes a time, perhaps, when you have to tell the public.”
Paterson said that the affairs happened during a rough patch in his marriage, and that the employee did not work for him. He insisted that he did not advance her career, and that no campaign or state money was spent on the affairs.
The admissions dampened the mood in the Capitol, where legislators had chanted Paterson's name and cheered after he was sworn in Monday. But there were many significant differences between Paterson's infidelity and the scandal that took down former Gov. Eliot Spitzer.
Spitzer, like Paterson a Democrat, has been accused of spending tens of thousands of dollars on high-priced call girls, including one last month. Federal prosecutors are deciding whether to pursue charges against Spitzer, who went after prostitution rings when he served as attorney general.
“I do not feel I have broken my commitment to the citizens of New York state,” Paterson said.
Paterson, a Harlem Democrat, talked about one affair in an interview with the New York Daily News after he was sworn in Monday, but his comments Tuesday were the first showing that the couple's fidelity problems went deeper than he first acknowledged.
He and his wife, Michelle Paige Paterson, said they both had affairs during a time when their marriage was headed toward divorce. But they admitted the infidelity, sought counseling and said they have built a stronger marriage and family.
“We dealt with it as a family,” his wife said. “A marriage has peaks and valleys. … No marriage is perfect.”
The governor said that the affairs took place since about 1999, and that one extended into the beginning of his term as Senate minority leader, which began in 2002. None involved prostitutes, he said.
Paterson said that he didn't reveal the affairs during his time as a senator, Senate minority leader or lieutenant governor because no one had asked him, and that he came forward because he didn't want the rumors to cloud his governorship.
“I didn't want to be blackmailed,” he said.
“I think we have a marriage like many Americans, maybe even like many of you,” the governor told reporters. “Elected officials are really just reflections of the people we represent.”
Paterson, who is legally blind and New York's first black governor, served two decades in the state Senate. His former colleagues have said they expect he will be a more unifying force than Spitzer, who often butted heads with legislative Republicans in his 14 months in office.
“Just as people were getting a good feeling and a feeling Paterson was a breath of fresh air, this happens,” said Lee Miringoff of the Marist College poll. "I think he spent some of his political capital from Monday because it becomes part of the same story: Who is he?”
“This all becomes who he is,” Miringoff said. “It obviously doesn't do him any good with a lot of voters, but it's not a knock-out punch … it's not the Spitzer situation.”
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat, said Tuesday he doesn't believe Paterson was weakened by the disclosure.
“This Albany press corps was in a feeding frenzy, looking for anything they could do to find it,” Silver said. “And basically what David Paterson did was say, ‘Stop bothering people. Here's the story. And that's it.’ ”
Photo: NY Gov. David Paterson