New York (CNN) – Some prominent African-American leaders are opting to stand behind embattled New York Gov. David Paterson until the state attorney general completes a probe into charges that Paterson misused the power of his office.
Black leaders held an emergency summit Thursday night at Sylvia's Restaurant in Harlem to discuss the media firestorm and flailing public support that has ensnared Paterson.
Organized by the Rev. Al Sharpton and off-limits to reporters, the meeting was an attempt to gauge the temperature of participants. Comments from attendees outside the restaurant indicated the dominant emotions inside were sympathy and restraint.
State Sen. Eric Adams pointed to Paterson's 22 years of public service in New York and said unproven allegations should not lead to the governor's demise.
"We have a competent attorney general, and he's doing an investigation," Adams said on his way into the meeting. "Let him do his job. It's our job to make sure the budget gets done."
Paterson, like his predecessor Eliot Spitzer, finds himself in the center of a major political controversy and, perhaps, another self-inflicted injury.
News reports say Paterson contacted a woman who was allegedly abused by a close aide, David Johnson. Jumping to his aide's defense, Paterson allegedly encouraged her to drop the charges, reports say. Since the allegations surfaced in The New York Times, top administration officials have jumped ship, and newspapers have called for Paterson's resignation, citing his apparent abuse of power.
However, attendees at the Harlem meeting - mainly from the political and religious sphere - largely criticized media coverage and swift judgment, especially in comparison to other politicians who have faced scandal.
New York City Councilman Charles Barron compared Paterson's imbroglio to the scandals that plagued former President Clinton.
"If Bill Clinton could be impeached as a president, and actually engaged in misconduct, and could run 50 states," Barron said, "then Paterson can run one state while under investigation."
When asked if race might be the impetus propelling the media's coverage, Barron said, "Of course it's a race thing. They don't want us in those positions. Race still matters."
The meeting was held a day after polls showed eroding public support for Paterson. According to a Quinnipiac University survey, job approval for the governor is at 24 percent - his lowest ever.
"New York state voters give Paterson big negatives, his lowest ever in a yearlong crash dive, but they're not ready to pull the trigger," said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute in a statement. "Whether it's mercy, pity or a fear of stepping into the unknown, it runs across all the demographic categories."
After the meeting, Sharpton described the scene inside the restaurant. "There were people on both sides," he said. "The overwhelming majority backed Paterson."
Leaders who attended Sylvia's include U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks, Hazel Dukes, former NAACP President Hazel Dukes and the Rev. Jacques DeGraff of the 100 Black Men of New York.
DeGraff said before the meeting his support for the governor is waning. "I think his effectiveness has reached its limits," he said. "I think it's time for him to let the Democrats to move on."