The state’s new governor revealed Tuesday that he had affairs with several women, including a state employee. The confession came a day after he took over from former Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who was driven from office amid a prostitution scandal.
Gov. David Paterson said the affairs happened during a rough patch in his marriage, and that the employee did not work for him. He insisted he did not advance her career, and that no campaign or state money was spent on the affairs.
“I do not feel I have broken my commitment to the people of New York state,” Paterson said at a news conference with his wife, Michelle Paige Paterson.
Paterson admitted an affair in an interview with the New York Daily News on Monday after he was sworn in, but his comments Tuesday indicate the couple’s fidelity problems went deeper than he first acknowledged. He is not having an affair now, he said.
The Patersons said they both had affairs during a time when their marriage was headed toward divorce. But they admitted the infidelity, sought counseling and 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.”
“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.”
'Didn't want to be blackmailed'
Paterson said the affairs took place since about 1999, and one extended into his term as Senate minority leader, which began in 2002. He said 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 he came forward because he didn’t want the rumors to cloud his governorship.
“I didn’t want to be blackmailed,” he said.
Paterson, who is legally blind and the state’s first black governor, ascended to office after Spitzer’s resignation last week amid allegations he hired a high-priced prostitute from an escort service. Federal prosecutors are still deciding whether to pursue charges against him.
Assembly Democratic 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.”’
Republican Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, who is next in the line of succession to the governor’s office should something happen to Paterson, said Paterson’s personal life is Paterson’s business only as long as it doesn’t interfere with how he governs.
Comments to newspaper
Responding to rumors circulating in Albany, Paterson and his wife, Michelle, told the Daily News of New York City on Monday that both had affairs during a rough patch in their marriage several years ago.
“This was a marriage that appeared to be going sour at one point,” Paterson told the Daily News. “But I went to counseling and we decided we wanted to make it work. Michelle is well aware of what went on.”
Paterson told the newspaper that he maintained a relationship with another woman from 1999 until 2001. He and his wife, Michelle, eventually sought counseling and repaired their relationship. The couple did not go into details.
Paterson and the other woman sometimes stayed at a Days Inn on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, the governor said, adding that his Albany staff sometimes stayed there as well when they were in the city. Paterson said he did not use government or campaign funds to pay for the romantic encounters.
“We move forward. Today is Monday. There is work to be done,” Paterson said. “There was an oath to be taken. There’s trust that needs to be restored. There are issues that need to be addressed.”
Spitzer, according to ex-aides, was at his Columbia County farmhouse at the time of Paterson’s swearing-in.
Where Spitzer’s 14-month tenure was marked by partisan sniping, Paterson, a fellow Democrat, reached across the aisle in his remarks from the ornate Assembly chamber. The crowd gave the new governor a two-minute standing ovation and chanted “David! David! David!”
“What we are going to do from now on is what we always should have done all along,” the former state senator said. “We’re going to work together.”
Legislators gave Paterson hearty applause when he called for cooperation, and laughs when he made playful jabs at Republican leaders.
He said of a dinner invitation from Senate Republican leader Joseph Bruno, probably Spitzer’s most bitter rival: “I’ll go. I’m going to take my taster with me.”
He teased Assembly Minority Leader James Tedisco, whom Spitzer famously and profanely said he would steamroll, that he would teach him how to play basketball. Tedisco, an upstate Republican, was a basketball star at Union College.
Paterson, 53, who becomes New York’s 55th governor, has said he will get right to work. The Legislature faces an April 1 deadline to pass an estimated $124 billion budget, and Paterson also said that health care, education, jobs and problems facing “the single mother with two jobs” need immediate attention.
Before reluctantly accepting Spitzer’s offer to run with him as lieutenant governor, Paterson was a Democratic state senator for more than two decades, representing parts of Harlem and Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
His wife had tears in her eyes for most of the ceremony.
“Every time I hear David speak, I want to cry,” she said afterward. “I’m just very happy I was able to live to see this day.”
Politicians past and present, including presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and governors from three neighboring states, attended the ceremony.
Federal prosecutors must still decide whether to pursue charges against Spitzer. The married father of three teenage girls was accused of spending tens of thousands of dollars on prostitutes — including a call girl in Washington the night before Valentine’s Day.