David Paterson’s Shame

Here’s how low the bar is in Albany these days: There was a collective sigh of relief on the second floor of the State Capitol last week when a report about the conduct of the governor and his aides concluded that they exercised poor judgment, but they didn’t commit a crime.

In a saner world, retired Judge Judith Kaye’s findings about David Paterson and some of his closest advisers would provoke shame, not relief; embarrassment, not a sense of vindication. But we’re talking about the imperfect and sleazy world of New York state politics, where the avoidance of indictment is cause for celebration, not reflection.

Judge Kaye, the former chief judge of the State Court of Appeals, found that Mr. Paterson personally intervened in a domestic violence case against a top adviser, David W. Johnson. The governor and the State Police contacted Mr. Johnson’s girlfriend, Sherr-una Booker, after she allegedly was assaulted by Mr. Johnson. The judge’s findings show an administration in panic mode, concerned not with the gravity of the accusations against Mr. Johnson but political fallout at a time when Mr. Paterson still considered himself a viable candidate for election. (Those delusions didn’t last very long-Mr. Paterson abandoned his campaign soon after the incident became public.)

The Kaye report should remind voters of just how poorly they have been served over the past several years. New York has endured the lethargy of George Pataki’s second term, the hubris and scandal of Eliot Spitzer and now the incompetence, disengagement and mendacity of the Paterson era. It’s hardly a wonder that New Yorkers are on the verge of electing another governor named Cuomo-the 1980s, when Andrew Cuomo’s father, Mario, reigned in Albany, are beginning to look like a golden age compared with the antics of the past 10 years or so.

Mr. Paterson’s behavior in the Johnson-Booker case has been scandalous, even if Judge Kaye decided it was not criminal. He ordered his communications director to lie about an order of protection against Mr. Johnson; he tried to downplay the charge against Mr. Johnson by insinuating, falsely, that the Johnson-Booker relationship ended without acrimony. Asked by the judge’s investigators whether that statement was true or false, the governor blithely stated that it was neither-it was, he said, “a statement designed to get the media off my back.”

That goal will be achieved on Jan. 1, when the governor’s office will pass into more capable, competent hands.