New York Governor Andrew Cuomo spoke at Albright-Knox art museum in Buffalo on Friday, one day after nine people associated with his administration were charged with corruption, and where he for the first time addressed the issue.
The criminal charges against nine of Governor Cuomo’s associates is the latest incident in a wave of corruption that has enveloped the state capitol for the past several years. When Cuomo first became governor in 2011, he promised to do something about it. So far, he has not been particularly successful.
Cuomo, in his inaugural speech as governor, January 1, 2011 promised that corruption at the capitol would end, and the public trust would be restored during his tenure in office.
“We have lost the trust,” Cuomo said. “And we’re not going to get it back until we’ve cleaned up Albany, and there’s real transparency.”
At the time, two former Senate leaders and a former state comptroller, had been convicted of fraud and bribery, and a number of rank and file lawmakers had been convicted of corruption , and, in one case, assaulting a girlfriend.
Since the governor’s term began, things have only gotten worse. Another Senate Leader, Dean Skelos, and the former Speaker of the Assembly, Sheldon Silver, were convicted of masterminding schemes defrauding taxpayers of millions of dollars, and sentenced to lengthy prison terms.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara looked into Cuomo’s handling of a Moreland Act Commission that was supposed to investigate the legislature, and found no wrongdoing in that instance. But the governor’s office had never been implicated, until the criminal compliant was issued against long time former Cuomo associates Joe Percoco, Todd Howe, and SUNY Polytechnic leader Alain Kaloyeros and six others, by Bharara.
Cuomo, appearing at the Albright Knox art gallery in Buffalo one day after the charges were made public, addressed the issue head on. He says the allegations against his “longtime friend” and former close aide Joe Percoco, is “sad” and “truly disappointing.” He says Percoco started working for his father, the later former Governor Mario Cuomo, when Percoco was just 19.
“It’s the first time since we lost my father that I didn’t miss him being here yesterday because it would have broken his heart,” Cuomo said.
Cuomo says he will cooperate with the U.S. Attorney to make sure wrongdoers are punished severely.
The governor regarded the incident as the failings of a few individuals, not an indictment of the system. And he announced that upstate economic development projects headed by suspended SUNY Polytechnic head Kaloyeros will continue, under Empire State Development Chair Howard Zemsky , though he says Zemsky will take steps to ensure that there is no more corruption.
Blair Horner, with the New York Public Interest Research Group, a long-time reform advocate, says it’s the system that needs to be fixed.
He says some of the governor top aides and allies viewed the governor’s economic development and energy policies “ as a gold rush, where they were supposed to make themselves wealthy.”
Horner says more transparency about the bidding process would prevent a few insiders from gaming the process.
“It’s the culture of secrecy,” Horner said. “Basically the governor has an honor system with a very small number of top aides.”
Cuomo, despite his pledge when he began as Governor, has not achieved any big changes in ethics reform. He set up a new ethics commission, which has been widely criticized as flawed and secretive. He has proposed public campaign financing several times, but has not been able to convince the legislature to pass it. Horner says it’s time for Cuomo to try again.
“It should move ethics to the governor’s number one priority for next year,” he said.
But the governor, with a stain now on his own administration, will be in a weakened position to seek any changes.