The day after the election, the Times ran a comparative chart of the personal preferences of the outgoing and incoming governors. Asked how he relaxed at the Governor’s Mansion in Albany, David Paterson said: “Reading in the family room.”
A few days earlier, Joe Fisch, the state’s inspector general, issued his report on the fixing of the state’s largest contract ever, the Aqueduct racino franchise, and pointed out how little his three-decade friend Paterson actually reads, or is read to. Peter Kiernan, Paterson’s counsel, talked to Paterson about the award of the $3 billion, 30-year contract by phone for 30 minutes — a minute a year — while the governor was driving to Poughkeepsie.
That conversation, concluded the IG report, “represents the sole formal briefing” Paterson received “after thousands of hours of analysis by members of the participating executive agencies.”
The report did its best to excuse Paterson’s disastrous handling of the franchise. “Given the governor’s visual impairment,” said the report, “he did not consult the finalized memo” that analyzed the six bidders in detail during the September 23, 2009 key meeting with legislative leaders and top staff, “or at any later point.”
Of course, Paterson’s sight issues have little to do with why he wasn’t exposed to all the key facts in the memo. The Times reported long ago that “he receives all his briefings orally,” and he didn’t seek anything beyond Kiernan’s scant car-ride rendering. He is also one of the 10 to 20 percent of the partially or wholly blind who are employed and can’t read Braille.
Impaired though he is (apparently except when it comes to relaxing in the mansion), he managed to ignore even the muted conclusions Kiernan conveyed — namely that his own Lottery Division, budget office and other oversight agencies had expressed a “strong preference” for two bidders rather than the one, Aqueduct Entertainment Group (AEG), that the governor eventually chose. Indeed, the memo put AEG near the bottom of the bidders, but Paterson insisted that it be kept in the game, claiming that he’d “heard” that there were questions about the minority hiring and contracting record of Steve Wynn, whose bid was regarded by nearly everyone on the executive staff as the best.
One rumor versus a hundred solid facts and Paterson chose the rumor.
Paterson actually had the nerve, after the IG report came out, to claim on the radio that it “clears me of any wrongdoing,” though he did simultaneously promise to “read it more thoroughly.” His press office put out a statement that turned the catastrophic selection process into a Paterson triumph, with Morgan Hook, the governor’s press secretary, claiming credit for a new request for proposals (RFP) process, after the AEG debacle, that resulted in the successful selection of a bidder that could immediately make the multi-million dollar upfront licensing payment required, unlike AEG.
“At the governor’s urging,” boasted Hook, “standard procurement rules were applied to the bidding process,” without noting that Paterson had ignored a recommendation from his own Lottery Division that he do it by RFP in the lead-up to the picking of the politically wired AEG. Less than a week after Hook’s salute to the governor, he announced his departure from Paterson’s office, after a scant seven months of speaking for the ever-elusive Paterson.
Hook was installed after Paterson’s prior press secretary and deputy press secretary quit in the uproar over the Paterson Yankee ticket and domestic violence cover-up cases, when lying for a governor whose far more serious impairment than his eyesight, a pathological inability to tell the truth, became too much for either to bear. David Soares, the Albany District Attorney, is now weighing a possible perjury indictment of Paterson in the Yankee ticket case, and Bronx DA Rob Johnson is probing the charges that Paterson and his right hand man, David Johnson, bottled up a beating.
Paterson is trying, desperately, to leave with a scrap of dignity intact, rewriting history and relying on the worst of his lies, namely that he is a nice guy who wound up a bit over his head, to carry him into a comfortable afterlife. The state can’t afford that. He can’t get away with behaving as if he’s above the law by sneaking out below the radar.
Since the Soares and Rob Johnson cases revolve around Paterson’s truthfulness, it is they who should spend some time reading the Aqueduct report. Its weakness is that it throws conclusory language at several other dissembling players, from Senate Democratic leader John Sampson to Paterson secretary Larry Schwartz, but spared Paterson a direct, quotable, hit. Fisch recused himself on the investigation because of his ties to Paterson, but has announced and explained the results, a peculiar combination. Despite the report’s reluctance to nail Paterson, the facts it presents speak for themselves:
Paterson “testified that he had no recollection” of he and Rev. Floyd Flake “having discussed an endorsement” when the two met the first business day after Paterson announced the selection of AEG. Flake, an investor in AEG and a believable former congressman, said “the sole topic they discussed was the governor’s re-election.” In a conversation that lasted up to 45 minutes — more time than the governor spent analyzing the Aqueduct bids — Paterson claims they discussed charter schools and other issues. The IG report concluded that Paterson “engaged in an ill-advised meeting” with Flake “in an effort to gain political support,” a statement that clearly indicates whose version of events the IG believed.
The Flake meeting was in fact hurriedly arranged by a Paterson campaign consultant, spurred by the fact that the influential Flake had made public comments favoring possible Paterson rival Andrew Cuomo. But unlike the IG’s treatment of other disingenuous statements, the report doesn’t say the obvious, namely that Paterson wasn’t being truthful.
In a footnote, the report notes that Peter Kauffmann, Paterson’s then press secretary who recently joined Andrew Cuomo’s campaign press team, emailed the governor’s top aide Larry Schwartz after Paterson’s lengthy off the record conversation with a Times reporter that “there are some embarrassing places where he lies.” The lies Kauffmann referred to were unrelated to AEG, but so commonplace that Kauffmann’s e-mail appeared to be matter of fact.
For unexplained reasons, the report concludes that David Johnson, the chauffeur who became Paterson’s closest confidant and dragged him into the domestic violence case, played a “troubling” role “advocating for AEG” in the selection process, “even if,” speculates the IG, Johnson’s AEG efforts were “without effect.”
Johnson took the 5th amendment in this case, as he has in the other two. That left Paterson free to deny, as he did to the IG, “that Johnson ever informed him of having been contacted by any lobbyist in the selection process,” an account that could only be offered by a Paterson confident that his then constant companion DJ would never contradict it. DJ became such an open AEG agent that he complained to Paterson’s counsel that Lottery officials were “beating up” on the company when all Lottery was doing was demanding that the sullied principals of the company be dropped because they were unlicensable.
Though AEG lobbyists were all over Johnson, the report concludes that these lobbyists, and apparently DJ himself, “had little or no effect on the governor.” No explanation is offered for why it was Johnson who called AEG to formally inform them that they had won, not Kiernan. Johnson even met as the governor’s representative in a post-selection strategy session with AEG. The Paterson attempt, adopted by the IG, to marginalize Johnson defies common sense.
Despite an internal AEG email claiming that Al Sharpton “lobbied the Governor hard over the weekend on our behalf,” AEG donations of $100,000 to Sharpton’s National Action Network, and a victory celebration attended by AEG executives and Sharpton the night before Paterson announced the selection, the IG accepts Paterson’s testimony that Sharpton “did not lobby on AEG’s behalf.” Sharpton says amen to Paterson, and we can almost hear the two of them chuckling in chorus.
The report says the press release announcing AEG’s selection, issued by Kauffmann, was “undermined by the evaluations conducted by the Governor’s own executive staff including the Division of the Budget,” as well as by “internal executive chamber emails authored that day” by Kiernan and others. The release said AEG had “the ability to pay” the upfront fee, while Kiernan was openly saying that AEG lobbyists had just told him “it doesn’t have the money.”
The release’s claims that AEG had “complied with every request made during the review process” and was licensable were “contradicted by the facts,” according to the IG. In fact, Kiernan testified that he was “surprised it ended up being AEG” and asserted lawyer/client privilege very rarely, but did so on the question of what he’d told Paterson about AEG’s license. One Paterson aide told the IG that their reaction to the AEG choice was “unprintable,” and another characterized that award as “incomprehensible.”
The IG didn’t hold Paterson personally accountable for the wholesale falsehoods issued in his name in this release. In fact, neither Kauffmann not anyone else was held accountable, as if lies are such a part of the expected fabric of the Paterson administration that no explanation is required.
It is tough to diagnose the media and public mood about our departing governor. He is blessed now by benign neglect, a shoulder shrug at each new revelation that allows him to go on crowing about himself. But he is still governor, and even when he no longer is, his calculated victimization does not entitle him to a pass on the damage he’s inflicted on his office and this state. Soares and Rob Johnson can’t look for a slap on the wrist farewell for him, preferring mercy to justice, like Judge Judith Kaye did, as Cuomo’s special investigator. We won’t clean up Albany by covering up misconduct at the highest levels.
Research credit: Lily Altavena, Samantha Cook, Ryan Gellis, Puneet Parhar