NY Governor Andrew Cuomo's own record means he can forget 2020

NY Governor Andrew Cuomo's own record means he can forget 2020
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To New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, optics are everything. The ground is not broken, nor are ribbons cut, without his full display of Albany’s blue-curtained pageantry. The snowplows dare not roll down the Thruway, it seems, without first providing the backdrop for the governor in his embroidered jacket.

This insatiable need for oratory and stagecraft was on full display in May of 2010 when Cuomo launched his bid for governor on the steps of the courthouse named for the corrupt Boss Tweed of Tammany Hall. The message was blunt and the rhetoric high. Under his watch, state government would be delivered from its dark pit of dishonesty. For, as he diagnosed, “The chronic dysfunction of Albany metastasized into the corruption of Albany.”


This is how the current New York governor began his campaign nearly a decade ago; and so as logic goes, this must be how then-candidate Cuomo hoped his efforts would be judged when he came up for re-election. Let’s oblige him. 


In truth, it cannot be lost on any objective New Yorker, Democrat and Republican alike, that this governor has failed in his declared goal of ending Albany’s stench.

Eight years after his lofty kickoff, a former point man for the Cuomo administration is now on trial at a very different federal courthouse just 725 feet up the street for the very type of alleged systemic fraud he derided and pledged to eradicate. Yet what’s more appalling is that this is isn’t even the first case this year. Ironically, Joseph Percoco, the man who has been with Cuomo from the start, and who later quarterbacked many of the administration’s goals, has himself already been convicted of three counts of corruption in a bribery scheme.

In 2010, Cuomo released his manifesto, "The New NY Agenda: A Plan for Action." Of course, he placed his most important priority at the top of the list. Chapter one was entitled “Clean Up Albany: Restoring Trust and Accountability.” 

In the report, Cuomo chided Albany as being “beholden to the special interests,” whose “most cherished institutions have been weakened by scandal and corruption,” and where “critical decisions are made behind closed doors.” All of these have since become hallmarks of his administration.

The first point of his action plan was to implement independent monitoring and enforcement of the state’s ethics laws. In 2013, Cuomo empaneled a Commission to Investigate Public Corruption under New York’s Moreland Act. But when the “independent” commission began seeking subpoenas on actors with ties to the governor himself, Cuomo disbanded it, claiming “Its my commission.” Five years, and the indictments of the assembly speaker, state senate majority leader, and a handful of Cuomo-allies later, perhaps its now clear that the commissioners were onto something.

Within the category of "Clean Up Albany" was his commitment to eliminate "pay to play." Forget for a second that the current criminal trial involves allegations of just this type of scheme, or that the Percoco conviction exposed how the former aide masked their discussion of cash payments by calling it “ziti,” as though they were characters in a low-budget mob movie.

The list of instances where Cuomo donors reportedly received contracts, cash incentives, and preference over non-Cuomo donors is too extensive to fit in one piece. To many around the state, it seems the governor’s entire system of regional economic development councils exist to serve his friends. Just this year alone, there have been allegations of "pay to play" involving a Hudson Valley healthcare company, an Onondaga film studio, and a failing casino in the Catskills.

To address this ‘pay to play’ problem, the Cuomo of 2010 proposed three specific positions: 1) Lowering contributions for public contractors; 2) Immediate disclosure of contributors; and 3) Prohibiting public contracts for contractors exceeding certain limits. All are good ideas.

Needless to say, none of these reforms were ever effectively enacted. Yet what should truly shock voters is how willing the Andrew Cuomo of 2018 seems to skirt his own standards from eight years earlier. He renewed his pledge to ban large donations shortly before his 2014 re-election, but that didn't stop large donors from stocking his $30 million war chest. He signed an executive order barring his own appointees from donating and fundraising, but the New York Times uncovered $890,000 worth of their contributions.     

Also in "The New NY Agenda" was Cuomo’s attack on the “LLC loophole”. He has routinely criticized this practice, which lets corporations skirt the state’s contribution limits. Yet in just his last filing, the governor reportedly received 116 LLC donations, ranging from $100 to $65,000, without disclosing any of the information a personal donor would otherwise have to under the law. Unsurprisingly, many of these big donors have equally big projects in New York.

At his 2010 kickoff, Andrew Cuomo said, “Albany’s antics today could make Boss Tweed blush. ... Enough is enough.” He was right then; but those words still hold true after two terms under his own stewardship. In practice, the governor has become the poster boy of the capitol’s antics. Enough is enough.

Joseph Borelli is the minority whip of the New York City Council, Republican commentator, professor and Lindsay Fellow at the City University of New York's Institute for State and Local Governance. He has also been published in the NY Daily News and Washington Times and appears on Fox News, Fox Business, CNN and HLN. He has endorsed Republican Marc Molinaro against Andrew Cuomo. You can follow him on Twitter @JoeBorelliNYC