In Harlem, Defending Paterson by Denying

“I am running for governor right now,” is the best the David Paterson could say to reporters yesterday gathered on Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard in Harlem, after news broke that President Obama wants him to step aside from next year’s race.

Paterson didn’t discuss details of his conversations with Obama political director Patrick Gaspard, or a dinner he had on the Upper West Side where he reportedly discussed the possibility of not running. But while Paterson fights off a push from Washington, his allies in New York are finding ever fewer ways to defend his low poll numbers and sagging fund-raising and to rationalize run for governor against Andrew Cuomo, the popular attorney general.

But some are trying. Most went with denial of the actual story.

“I don’t believe the president said that,” said Representative Charles Rangel “because there is no evidence that the president asked the governor to step aside.” In one of many scrums with reporters at the African-American Day parade, Rangel added, “Nobody is able to give me any evidence other than a reporter or two from the New York Times [saying Obama] said that.”

“I just think that is a made-up story,” said Hazel Dukes, president of the New York State NAACP. “I don’t think the president would tell us in New York who should run for the governor or for any other office in this state.”

Dukes, standing outside the A.C.P. State Building, added, “The print [media] always like to distract people. But we’re not going to be distracted.”

When I said the message from Obama was reportedly carried by Gaspard and Representative Greg Meeks, Dukes said, “Who are they? Patrick can’t even vote here anymore. Congressman Meeks got to take care of his own district.”

She added, “I don’t believe it until I see it come out of Obama’s mouth. Not a surrogate. I want him to say it.” Dukes said Obama should come out and speak directly about the issue, but warned his message may not be received well.

“We New Yorkers are tough. We’re tough. The president don’t dictate to us. We dictate to the president,” she said. “He has to get elected just like everybody else.”

The most popular way supporting Paterson came in the form of denying the story as merely something that’s in the newspapers.

“As far as I’m concerned, they’re news reports right now,” said John Liu, across the street from the state building.

“I haven’t seen anything or head anything from the White House to substantiate that,” said Assemblywoman Annette Robinson of Brooklyn.

Bill Thompson, whom Paterson endorsed for mayor on Friday, said, “I don’t know if anybody can determine what the governor is going to do. I think in the end it’s going to have to be a decision that he makes as to whether he is going to run or not. Do I have advice for him? I don’t.”

Speaking to a crowd outside the Adam Clayton Powell State Building on 125th Street before the African-American Day Parade, Rangel blamed the media for the story, and predicted Obama would deny the reports.

“Now is our time. Except the newspapers aren’t being entirely fair, because now they’re saying that even for our governor, that the president of the United States says that our governor shouldn’t even run,” Rangel said.

“Now, let me tell you this. If you read the article, all it says is that some reporters said it. I bet you one thing, when the president comes here tomorrow, he won’t be telling anybody not to run.”

Rangel said “we can’t have reporters from the New York Times telling us what our president has said, while we’re trying to get a health care bill through. It’s just division.”