Advocates renew push for reform after corruption scandal
Several corruption trials are set for 2018 after a scandal involving nine of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s former associates who worked on his administration’s economic development projects. Advocates say they will continue to push for reforms to prevent such problems from happening again.
At an Assembly hearing this week, Alex Camarda, who is with government reform group Reinvent Albany, admonished lawmakers. He told them he’s disappointed that they failed to act on measures to change the way billions of dollars in state contracts are solicited and awarded, even though several of Cuomo’s former associates are facing federal trials on corruption charges next year.
“In fact, the Legislature did not pass any legislation,” Camarda said. “Despite the state economic development programs being engulfed in the biggest bid-rigging scandal in state history.”
Among those who face trial next year are a former top aide to the governor and the former head of the State University of New York’s nanotech science program.
Reinvent Albany and other groups are seeking several changes. One would reinstate the state comptroller’s oversight over economic development contracts. That authority was taken away in a measure proposed by Cuomo and agreed to by the Legislature in 2012.
Another would create a database of deals, listing the status of all of the state’s economic development contracts and measuring how successful they’ve been. Camarda said that it’s “not rocket science.” He said two media organizations were able to collect and compile the data using the Freedom of Information law.
Cuomo has proposed his own reforms. He wants to set up a special inspector general’s office within his own administration to keep an eye on contracts. Critics, however, say any watchdog entity needs to be independent of the governor. The governor’s bills did not advance in the Legislature.
At the hearing, Robin Schimminger, the chairman of the Assembly’s Economic Development committee, said that he backs the reforms, and that they were approved by his committee earlier this year.
“You’re preaching to the choir here,” Schimminger said.
But the measures stalled. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, as well as state Senate Leader John Flanagan, expressed support for the bills last spring, but they ended the legislative session without voting on them.
Camarda said advocates plan to make the reforms a major focus in the new session, which begins in January.
“It’s an election year, there’s going to the trials,” Camarda said. “All the good government groups will be advocating for this. We’re not going away.”
He said the Legislature should not approve any more money for economic development projects until the process is more transparent.