ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -- Top New York Democrats were silent Tuesday as Gov. David Paterson, already fighting to remain politically viable, fought to lay to rest unconfirmed rumors and news reports of womanizing and drug use.
Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, many Democrats' preferred candidate for governor in 2010, refused to comment Tuesday on the unsubstantiated tales, all of which Paterson denies. Cuomo's office also won't comment on whether he supports Paterson in his battle.
"We don't comment on rumors," a Cuomo spokesman said. "There are serious problems facing our state and the attorney general is busy doing the job he was elected to do."
Many Democrats have voiced wishes that Cuomo run for governor instead of Paterson, who took the post upon the resignation of Eliot Spitzer, named in a prostitution investigation 23 months ago.
A Republican candidate for governor came to Paterson's side.
"The Capitol is paralyzed by rumor and innuendo, and somehow we need to get past that and focus on the basic problems that people care about," Rick Lazio said. "I don't think anyone trying to get their job done deserves this kind of phantom threat."
Paterson has cited as fabricated a Jan. 30 New York Post report that he was caught by state police in the mansion with a woman other than his wife. The Post has said it stands by its story.
Paterson decried those allegations and other statehouse rumors Monday in an Associated Press interview. Paterson, trailing Cuomo in the polls and in fundraising, would face a tougher campaign against Lazio, which could threaten the whole Democratic ticket.
Democratic leaders wouldn't comment on Paterson or the rumors that have undermined him as he confronts the Legislature over the state budget, an ethics bill he vetoed and the awarding of a contract for video slot machines at Aqueduct race track.
Senate Conference Leader John Sampson, a Brooklyn Democrat at odds with Paterson in legislative fights, declined to comment. Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer also wouldn't comment, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
In the interview with the AP, Paterson declined to identify who he thinks is behind the attacks on his character and said accusing anyone would be as unfair as spreading rumors about him.
"But it is certainly serving others' interest and not mine," he said Monday. "And I think it's a callous and sleazy way to treat a governor who is just trying to do his job and, in a democracy, is trying to keep his job."
"I think these rumors are awful," said Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, a Canandaigua Republican. "I actually feel sorry for the governor in this case. ... It doesn't do any good except for those seeking to gain from destroying, and that's not us."
Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, a Brooklyn Democrat, said the rumors have become a "feeding frenzy" in the media, targeting a governor who has faced fiscal crisis, fights with special interests, and battles with legislative leaders.
"It is clear Gov. Paterson has been dealt a very difficult hand," Jeffries said. "The episode at this point has been unfair."
"It's a great distraction," said Assemblyman Karim Camara, a Brooklyn Democrat. He said Albany needs to deal with the accusations and "get back to governing the state."