Is A Domestic Violence Cover-Up Enough To Bring Down David Paterson?


So turns out no one thinks it’s okay for state officials to pressure a woman savagely beaten by her partner to go away quietly, especially if her partner is the New York governor’s right-hand man. How not okay, exactly?

According to the woman who has lived with him for the past four years. David Johnson, a longtime driver and top aide to Gov. David Paterson, choked her, slammed her against a dresser, and tore her costume off her last Halloween.

And so far, the mounting evidence exposed by The New York Times over the past week that Paterson and officials he authorized pressure on the girlfriend of his aide to drop domestic abuse charges has been a bigger threat to Paterson’s political survival than the following: the early volunteering of his wife’s and his infidelities, appointing his possibly-underqualified ex-girlfriend to a key office, and accusations (in the same piece) that he’s indifferent or disengaged. I’ll look for good-ish news where I can find it.

Paterson has withdrawn his campaign to be elected governor but has so far refused to resign. The National Organization For Women has called for him to do so, having previously praised him for his record on women’s issues.

As for Johnson’s victim, The New York Times treated her delicately, at first declining to name her — possibly because they were respecting her anonymity as a source, rather than as a victim — but ceding that when the New York tabloids plastered her face and name everywhere. In another “department of low expectations” moment, I breathed a sigh of relief to see The New York Post present her as “courageous” and “good people.” God forbid she’d had some skeletons in her closet. Or hadn’t been able to present bruises.

As the depth and range of Paterson’s involvement is still being unraveled and processed by the state political machinery, Daily News columnist Errol Louis has struck a wise note, writing that Paterson

“loses me when he pronounces himself a ‘victim’ of press smears.
That loaded word is best reserved for the woman who tried to tell everybody she was beaten by Paterson’s former aide David Johnson – only to see her cry for help ignored, mishandled or suppressed by one agency after another.”

More recent reports have indicated that Paterson asked two other women who worked for him to talk to the woman. Girl talk, obviously.

Not only was the woman pressed by state troopers and government officials not to pursue charges against Johnson — presumed to be the reason she didn’t show up for her court date, leading to the charges being dropped — but the police declined to serve an order of protection on Johnson.

This is despite the fact that, as Louis puts it, “the towering 6-foot-7 aide was by the governor’s side at every public appearance.” The case has also put the spotlight on orders of protection on behalf of domestic violence victims, and how difficult it is to actually serve them on perpetrators. Louis points out that while the governor appeared to seriously abuse his office, there was a broader failure:

In a city where attacks between family members or intimate partners are an epidemic – the NYPD responds to some 650 domestic violence calls every day – it chills the blood to read about how one high-profile encounter was botched… So let the investigation continue. But let’s keep in mind that Paterson is not the only official who owes the public an explanation – and, perhaps, a resignation.

Writing in the Times, columnist Susan Dominus, in between longing for more women in office who presumably would never do such a thing, pointed out that many men in political office have been brought down by their drivers, perhaps because they are vulnerable to a sort of macho brotherhood in that context:

Maybe it was just cognitive dissonance: punishing, rather than protecting, Mr. Johnson would have required the governor to acknowledge that he had trusted his career, not to mention his life, to the wrong buddy, the wrong driver. Together, they drove his political prospects into the ground.

Among the few small gratitudes in this horrifying case, let us add the fact that this particular buddy system, which once might have led to silent protection among brothers, was broken apart by the Times, and that the abuser and the men and, sadly, women who protected him may actually come to justice. Now let’s see if it’s enough to topple the governor entirely.

Let’s Pay Attention To The Real Victim In Gov. Paterson Scandal [NYDN]

Investigators Are Told of Paterson Bid to Quiet Accuser
Paterson’s Driver Problem [NYT]
As Campaign Nears, Paterson Is Seen as Increasingly Remote [NYT]
NOW Calls for Paterson To Resign [NYT]
Transcript Of Woman’s Testimony About David W. Johnson [NYT]

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