Cuomo's pledge to clean up Albany unfulfilled
The criminal charges against nine of Governor Cuomo’s associates is only the latest incident in a wave of corruption that has enveloped the state capital 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 successful.
Cuomo, in his inaugural speech as governor on January 1, 2011, promised that corruption at the capital would end and that 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 former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver were convicted of masterminding schemes that defrauded taxpayers of millions of dollars. They were 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 wrong doing in that instance. However, the Governor’s office had never been implicated until the criminal compliant was issued against longtime former Cuomo associates Joe Percoco, Todd Howe and SUNY Polytechnic President Alain Kaloyeros with six others by Bharara.
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.
He also announced that upstate economic development projects headed by suspended SUNY Polytechnic head Kaloyeros will continue, under Empire State Development Chair Howard Zemsky and that Zemsky will take steps to ensure that there is no more corruption.
Blair Horner, with the New York Public Interest Research Group and longtime reform advocate, says it is the system that needs to be fixed.
Horner says some of the Governor's 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.” He 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 is time for Cuomo to try again.
“It should move ethics to the governor’s number one priority for next year,” he said.
However, the governor - now with a stain on his own administration - will be in a weakened position to seek any changes.