New York, Mar.20 :In an extraordinary public confession less than 24 hours after taking office, New York Governor David Paterson has said he has had affairs with "a number of women" in the not-so-distant past - including a current state employee.
Standing shoulder to shoulder with his grim-faced wife, Michelle, the governor said his "conscience is clear" - now that he has come clean about his private infidelities. He said he hopes now to focus on public's business.
"I just want to get straight with New York's citizens, so that they know who their governor is, and that their governor takes this office seriously," he told reporters packed into the state Capitol's ornate Red Room.
Coming a day after he succeeded Eliot Spitzer, who was toppled by a prostitution scandal, Paterson's startling admissions hit Albany like a surreal, recurring nightmare.
The affairs were a symptom of a then-troubled marriage, the governor said - she cheated, then he cheated, then he cheated some more, reports the New York Daily News.
The 53-year-old Paterson admitted he was involved with numerous women "several years ago" - including one who later worked in Spitzer's office and whom Paterson has "inherited" as part of his staff.
Sources later identified her as Lila Kirton, 49, whom Spitzer brought over from his attorney general's staff when he became governor last year. She is now community affairs director for the Office of Inter-Governmental Affairs.
Paterson insisted that he never supervised the woman and never used state funds for any of his trysts, some of which took place at the Days Inn at Broadway and W. 94th St.
Asked if he had ever used his office to promote or otherwise help any of the women with whom he was intimate, Paterson said on one occasion he helped resolve a healthcare matter, but otherwise denied using his influence.
"It was more an issue of humaneness and I did it and they had to accommodate her," he said without elaborating.
Asked if he had ever used campaign funds for hotels or other personal expenses, he left himself some wiggle room - saying he never "knowingly" did so. He also agreed to release hotel and credit card bills, which aides were still scrambling to find.
Meanwhile, an Olympic gold-medalist has also come forward, claiming she had a "close relationship" with the Governor and allegedly tape recorded her phone conversations with him, according to a newspaper report.
Diane Dixon, a Brooklyn native who won medals in the 4x400-meter relay at the 1984 games in Los Angeles and the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, claimed that Paterson had assisted in helping her secure a Department of Education job in Crown Heights. .
Michelle Paterson, 46 - who acknowledged a past affair of hers and silently affirmed his account.
She took questions, too - including on what lessons she hoped the couple's children would draw from their decision to stay married.
"In a marriage," the state's new First Lady said stoically, "you're going to have peaks and valleys, but you want to show them how you get through them."
The legally blind Paterson and his wife of 15 years - dressed smartly in a black belted skirt suit and white blouse - entered the news conference hand in hand and patiently fielded questions for half an hour.
Along the mahogany-paneled walls stood many staffers who only a day before were working for a different governor, among them Lloyd Constantine, one of Spitzer's most trusted advisers, and Paul Francis, Spitzer's budget director.
It was a wild mood swing from the euphoria of Monday, when Paterson strode into the Capitol's raucous Assembly chamber to chants of "David! David! David!" to take the oath of office as New York's 55th governor and its first African-American chief executive.
On Monday, the Patersons' two children - Alex, 14 and Ashley, 19 - stood proudly by their sides. Yesterday, they were kept away.
When Paterson and his wife first revealed their unfaithful pasts, Paterson mentioned only a single affair, which he suggested had ended in 2001.
Yesterday, he expanded on that account to include "a number of women" and conceded that at least one dalliance continued into his term as Senate minority leader, which began in 2003.
At first, he suggested, his wandering ways were motivated by jealousy after learning of his wife's affair.
"When I became aware of something, I was pretty upset and I was kind of just angry," he said before quickly moving to absolve his wife of any real blame.
"I was jealous over Michelle," he added. "But it was not Michelle's fault."
Friends said the couple is as united privately as they are publicly.
"It makes a big difference when you are both together on this," said Terry Burrus, one of Michelle Paterson's closest friends. "The agony comes from when you are dishonest with each other."
Their decision to face the press was a clear effort to confront the issue in the most direct, public way possible.
"We decided to tell the truth," Paterson said flatly.
When his aides tried to end the press conference, even as reporters' questions hung in the air, Paterson pressed ahead, saying, "What I'd really like to do, so everybody knows, is to deal with this, put this all behind me."
His forthright approach seemed to score points with many in Albany, including Republicans who a week ago were calling for Spitzer's impeachment in the prostitution scandal.
Senate GOP leader Joe Bruno offered no sign of trying to milk Paterson's revelations for political gain, suggesting the fledgling governor will be spared any negative fallout.
"I think his personal life is his personal life, and he has to share what he is comfortable sharing," Bruno said.