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State

State ethics commission revokes Cuomo's book deal

The official JCOPE seal
Joint Commission on Public Ethics
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The state ethics commission on Tuesday voted to revoke permission that it granted to former Gov. Andrew Cuomo to write and publish what became a controversial memoir about how he handled the COVID-19 crisis.

Cuomo, who resigned in August, was paid $5.1 million for the book, but the commission’s vote could mean he has to return at least part of the money.

The resolution, which was approved by a 12-to-1 vote, says that Cuomo promised not to use his staff or other state resources to help him write the book, American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic. It details how he handled the pandemic at the height of the spread of COVID-19 in New York.

When the Joint Commission on Public Ethics executive staff gave him permission on July 17, 2020, to proceed with the memoir, the former governor said he had not yet begun work on the book. He portrayed the subject matter as a continuation of a previous memoir, written in 2012, that focused more on his personal life and recollections than on his job duties.

But evidence revealed through multiple investigations, including ones conducted by the state attorney general, the state Assembly and federal prosecutors, found that Cuomo had nearly completed the book by the time he asked for the ethics panel’s approval. The probes raised questions about whether he used top staff to help him write and edit the manuscript. Using state resources for personal gain is a violation of the state’s Public Officers law.

The resolution, presented by Commissioner David McNamara, says that Cuomo’s “omissions and misrepresentations” constitute grounds for revocation.

“It is resolved that the conditional approval letter be and is hereby revoked,” McNamara read.

McNamara, who was appointed to the panel by Republicans in the state Senate, previously sought to rescind the book deal, but the panel, which was dominated by Cuomo appointees, resisted.

Some commissioners have complained that they were not given the details about the proposed book deal and that it was improperly approved by JCOPE’s executive staff.

Cuomo’s successor, Gov. Kathy Hochul, has since replaced several Cuomo appointees with her own choices.

The lone objector to the resolution was William Fisher, a Cuomo appointee who remains on the panel. Fisher said he disagreed with the resolution’s finding that Cuomo misrepresented the book’s contents as being unrelated to his duties as governor.

“It’s not a series of speeches he gave to the state Legislature, it’s not the transcripts from his daily press conferences, nor a simple recounting of what the governor and his office did during the period of time covered by the book,” Fisher said.

Fisher offered to support an amended resolution, but the 12 other commissioners did not agree.

The ruling means that Cuomo has to reapply, retroactively, for permission to publish the book. If JCOPE does not grant that approval, the commission can try to force the former governor to return all or part of the $5.1 million in profits he made from the memoir.

Rich Azzopardi, a spokesman for Cuomo, called the vote “the height of hypocrisy” and claims that Hochul and leaders of the Legislature who appointed the commissioners “routinely use their own staff for political and personal assistance on their own time.”

Azzopardi denies that Cuomo illegally used government resources for the project, saying that staff who helped the former governor volunteered their time.