Linking himself with other black office holders, Paterson suggested the "crescendo" of calls for him not to seek re-election is because he's black. "We're not in a post-racial period," he said.
Also in the radio interview, Paterson blamed the media for an "orchestrated" effort to stop his re-election. "You don't hear this crusade that it's time for the governor to step aside. It's a game, and people who pay attention know that," he said.
Later Friday, Paterson issued a statement clarifying his remarks, saying "certain media outlets have engaged in coverage that exploits racial stereotypes."
But the foundering economy, not race, is driving voter dissatisfaction with Paterson's performance, said political observers.
In the radio interview, Paterson said Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, the nation's only other black governor, also is being treated unfairly because of the color of his skin. Obama is the "next victim" of racially tinged attacks as the debate over health care rages, the governor said. Paterson made his morning remarks on a show hosted by Daily News columnist Errol Louis on AM 1600 WWRL.
In his statement, he said: "At no point did I claim that this media piling-on effect was due to race - elected officials of all races get piled on by the media all the time; that is the nature of our business. What I did point out was that certain media outlets have engaged in coverage that exploits racial stereotypes."
Asked what stereotyping the governor had been referring to, Paterson's spokeswoman referenced a cable television talk show that claimed Paterson had been out at a nightclub at 1 a.m. In the interview Friday, the governor said he had been out, but was at a restaurant with his daughter and left around 11 p.m.
"Race is still an emotional trigger for people in our society," D'Innocenzo said. "But I would say it's far from being the major issue for Paterson."
A recent Quinnipiac poll shows Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has a 4-1 lead over Paterson in a possible race for the Democratic nomination for governor. Still, Paterson signaled he'll run. "Even if it didn't work out, what is the shame in running for re-election and losing."
Stanley Klein, a professor of political science at C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University and a Republican committeeman, said: "They're flailing for some type of life preserver. I think they hit on this race thing and I think they're wrong."