David Paterson and Yet Another Ethics Controversy: This Time Involving an Airplane and Ice Hockey

By Cat Contiguglia

Governor Paterson used a State airplane in a questionable trip to a hockey game in Syracuse just days before testifying to the New York State Public Integrity Commission about his apparent abuse of privilege in obtaining tickets to a Yankees World Series Game.

Documents released last week by the commission indicate that four days before giving the testimony that is now being examined for perjury, the Governor used the State airplane on a trip that included a series of campaign stops where he announced his 2010 gubernatorial candidacy.

By then, the investigation was four months in, and had obtained testimony from Yankees officials confirming what Fred Dicker of the New York Post had reported months before -- that the Governor had solicited and obtained Yankees tickets and lied about it.

In his testimony in the Yankees tickets investigation, Paterson said he doesn't attend just any sporting event -- the events he said he attends are important and "unique," like "groundbreakings, concerts for September 11th victims, September 11th ceremonies, New York City welcoming a national organization's convention for something." Paterson's staff said the Governor's February 20th flight upstate was primarily to attend the AHL's Mirabato Classic at the New York State Fairgrounds.

The Governor's role in the historical event was kicking in $75,000 he obtained through the Empire State Development Corporation, according to a press release on his website, a fraction of the total $700,000 it cost to put on the game.

The Governor's appearance at the game was brief -- after being booed by thousands of spectators during his 30-second speech, he dropped the first puck and left after about 20 minutes, according to Syracuse's Post Standard. The rest of the time he spent upstate was for a campaign tour hitting Hempstead and Rochester where he announced his candidacy and dismissed charges from the first article of the New York Times trilogy published two days before the trip that described the Governor as detached and remote.

Blair Horner, the legislative director for the New York Public Interest Research Group, said that while the appropriate use of the state aircraft has been problematic for a number of administrations, what is certain is the use of the state airplane must be for trips primarily concerned with state duties.

"Generally speaking, taxpayer resources should be used for public events," Horner said, "not as a convening cover to pay for going to political events."

State guidelines regarding use of the State aircraft say that non-State activity during a trip using the aircraft is permissible if it is "incidental personal time or 'down time' between government meetings" and as long as the state purpose of the trip must not be "a pretext to permit engaging in non-state activities." They also say "If the official spent a portion of the time on political activity in connection with the use of the State aircraft, then reimbursement is required...Otherwise the official will have used a State resource for non-State purposes."

When a reporter asked Paterson about using taxpayer's money to fly, he said he had driven and he'd "pay for the gas tank myself," according to the Standard. His staff later said he must have been referring to the drive from the airport. Questioned about the campaign stops, the Standard reported, his staff said the hockey trip had been planned before the Governor announced his 2010 candidacy.

Paterson had publicly stated long before February that he had plans to run for Governor.

There is no indication of any investigation underway regarding Paterson's use of the aircraft. But it's the timeline that's telling -- during an investigation about abuse of his privileges and just days before making statements that would later turn out to be fabrications, the Governor skirted ethics guidelines to travel upstate and stand before crowds of New Yorkers and ask for their trust and vote.

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