David Paterson's campaign and supporters are accusing Attorney General Andrew Cuomo of deliberately undermining the governor in the press.
Last week, The New York Times reported that the state's ethics panel had been reviewing a request from three good-government groups to investigate the Paterson administration for leaking the confidential information Caroline Kennedy provided during the Senate vetting process early this year.
Keith Wright, a strong supporter of David Paterson, expressed a suspicion that Blair Horner, the legislative director of the New York Public Interest Research Group who once worked for the attorney general and is now spearheading the call for an investigation, may be acting as an agent for Cuomo.
"I know that Blair Horner used to work for Andrew, and I'm not saying Andrew Cuomo is part and parcel to any sort of grand conspiracy theory, but you have to look at relationships. Some of our good-government groups may not be all that pure," said Wright. "I think it has to be taken into account, Blair Horner becoming a maverick muckraker on this issue concerning the confidentiality."
"[Horner] may want [Cuomo] to be governor and this may be a way that Blair thinks he can elevate his reputation, by maybe doing some undercover work," he said.
Wright is not speaking out of turn here—his suspicions seem to be shared by the governor's campaign.
As one Paterson campaign official put it to me, "Every time there is good news for the governor, there comes along a less-positive story that seems to have some fingerprints back to Andrew Cuomo."
The campaign official pointed to the timing of the Kennedy-leak story, which overshadowed coverage of the governor's reform of the Rockefeller drug laws, and to the appearance of a Cuomo spokesman in the New York Post criticizing Paterson's budget just as Paterson announced the allocation of hundreds of millions of dollars in stimulus funds for housing and infrastructure around the state. The source also saw a concerted effort to damage Paterson when Cuomo declined to defend the governor from attacks by Newt Gingrich and Rudy Giuliani published the day Paterson announced landmark same-sex marriage legislation.
"Those constitute a fraction of the pattern," said the official, who also said that the Paterson campaign received "calls and emails every day" from supporters of the governor expressing similar suspicions about Cuomo orchestrating a press strategy designed to weaken Paterson.
Asked about the accusations of Cuomo-collusion, Horner said that it all bore the distinct marks of a paranoid conspiracy theory, and was meant as a distraction.
"This idea that there is some conspiracy is, I think, a smoke screen, because the issue at hand is, is it legal for members of the government to leak confidential information," he said. "That's a yes-or-no answer."
Referring to Wright, he said, "He's entitled to his opinion, but the issue is, was the law broken."
Horner pointed to his watchdog work during the administrations of Mario Cuomo, George Pataki and Eliot Spitzer as proof that "we fight it out on the merits."
When asked if Cuomo had sought to undermine the governor by stepping on his positive news coverage, Alex Detrick, a spokesman for the attorney general, said, "The premise of your question is silly. The attorney general and the governor enjoy an excellent working and personal relationship."
Shortly after I talked to Cuomo's office, I got a call from a different source close to the governor, who said the following:
"David and Andrew don't have a problem. David doesn't think Andrew is doing anything. What's happening on the staff and operative level is an open question. And recent events would suggest that some operatives are being less than loyal to the head of the state party."