February 17, 2010


Paterson Aide’s Quick Rise Draws Scrutiny (DANNY HAKIM and WILLIAM K. RASHBAUM, 2/16/10, NY Times)

David W. Johnson has worked for Gov. David A. Paterson for much of his adult life. He began as a young, ambitious intern from Harlem when Mr. Paterson was a state legislator. He rose to be Mr. Paterson’s driver, serving as a kind of protector and scheduler.

In recent months, however, Mr. Johnson’s ascent has been striking: he is now one of the most senior people in the governor’s administration, paid $132,000. He is described as Mr. Paterson’s closest confidant, a man with a designated room for his overnight stays in the Executive Mansion, and a broadening role in areas like campaign strategy, government initiatives and the management of the governor’s staff.

A review of Mr. Johnson’s rise and his history, undertaken after he emerged as perhaps the man closest to the state’s chief executive, shows that he was twice arrested on felony drug charges as a teenager, including a charge of selling cocaine to an undercover officer in Harlem.

The examination of his background, based on interviews and records, shows he has at least one other arrest, for misdemeanor assault in the 1990s, although there is very little publicly available about that case. [...]

Mr. Johnson’s increasing prominence, and Mr. Paterson’s reliance on him, have worried some veteran aides to the governor, who themselves are trying to assist Mr. Paterson as he faces an enormous fiscal crisis and a daunting election effort. They would not speak by name, but more than four current or former officials expressed concern that Mr. Johnson and another aide, a former state trooper, had become the governor’s innermost circle and were simply not best equipped to help him tackle the multiple challenges facing him.

Some heads of significant government agencies have said they feel they have to go through Mr. Johnson, often known as D. J., to get to the governor. And several current and former administration officials said that Mr. Johnson’s dressing down of the governor’s Washington office in September contributed to the departure of several seasoned people from the office.

“I started getting messages from D. J. telling me to call certain players in my industry,” said one former official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid antagonizing the governor.

Mr. Johnson, the official said, started to manage administration press conferences, dictating the order and seating of speakers and calling agencies to request they draft statements on particular issues. [...]

Mr. Johnson, the colleague said, was also valued because of the imposing figure he cast. At 6-foot-7, with a booming voice, he made Mr. Paterson, who is legally blind, feel secure, and so he was often scheduled to travel with him.

Mr. Johnson also helped keep people in line on those occasions when a troublesome constituent threatened to raise a ruckus in the Harlem office.

“Every now and then it was good to have a big guy in the office,” the colleague said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 17, 2010 6:53 AM
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