Harlem isn’t giving up on Governor David Paterson—at least not yet.
That was the message of passive support Rev. Al Sharpton and a group of mostly black politicians sent after convening at Sylvia’s soul food restaurant in Harlem late Thursday evening.
The meeting was held to decide whether or not to call for Paterson’s resignation amid growing questions about ethics violations, including claims that he wrongly interfered in a domestic violence case involving a close aide.
But Sharpton emerged from the meeting, which was closed to press, emphatic about supporting Paterson’s desire to finish his term as the investigations begin.
“We’re going to continue to push for what’s important in state government and we’re not going to interfere with due process,” he said.
Calling the event a “spirited discussion,” Sharpton said that there was some dissent in the room but that the group overwhelmingly agreed to continue their support.
“David Paterson has not yet given his side of the story. What I’m hearing from residents of Harlem ... they’re saying they support him and want him to finish the job,” Assembly member Keith Wright, who represents parts of West and Central Harlem, said before the meeting.
Paterson is a Harlem native who served as the neighborhood’s state senator for 20 years before becoming the state’s lieutenant governor in 2006 and governor in 2008, after Eliot Spitzer resigned amid controversy.
At least 50 members of the media waited three hours for a post-meeting press conference outside, which never took place.
Several Harlem residents who gathered around Sylvia’s to watch the spectacle said that the neighborhood is not ready to give up on Paterson.
After the results of the investigation come out, “If he has to go, he has to go,” local resident Gwen Gaddy said. Until then, “You got a whole lot of Democrats around here, I’m sure they’ll support him.”
The most recent ethics charges against Paterson involve allegations that he accepted free tickets to the first game of the World Series and lied under oath about intending to pay for them.
But some local supporters seemed convinced that all the charges are baseless.
“He should have been invited to the first game of the Word Series—he’s the fucking governor … It’s foolish,” said Julius Tajiddin, a former member of Harlem’s Community Board 10.
Kathleen Knight, a Barnard political science professor, said in an interview Thursday morning that the meeting also had to do with people positioning themselves for political careers.
She added, “The real question is whether it is a harm to have him serve out his term. If more of these allegations turn out, they may simply be put in a position where he may have to go.”
A number of politicians have said that such investigations are irrelevant to the ability to govern, invoking the example of former President Bill Clinton, who held office during his impeachment.
Sharpton said that he had spoken with the New York State Senate Majority Leader John Sampson, who said that Paterson was still an effective leader.
“Our concern is that our community is being dealt with. We have a $9 billion budget deficit,” Sharpton said.
Knight said that concerns about policy do play a role in these decisions. “I do think there will be a fairly strong push to keep him at all costs, just because of the unpredictability of having a new governor.”
Outside of Sylvia’s, Sharpton acknowledged that support is waning for the governor, adding that they do want to make sure the investigations do not become “distractions to government.”
State Assembly member Hakeem Jeffries, who represents parts of Brooklyn, noted that while the attendees may have reached a tentative stance on Paterson, the rest of the political world has not.
“It’s important for leaders across the city and state to come to a consensus view … The overwhelming majority of my colleagues in the assembly have not called for his resignation,” he said.
A reporter asked former New York City Mayor David Dinkins, walking into the restaurant for the meeting, what his advice would be to the embattled governor.
He responded, expressing the sentiment of the night, “Hang tough.”