Only a few days to make a difference
Eight years ago, Andrew Cuomo stood on the steps of the Tweed Courthouse in Manhattan – named for the infamous Boss Tweed of Tammany Hall – and vowed to end corruption in Albany if voters elected him governor.
Eight years later, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is running for a third term, and Albany is swampier than ever. The governor has a short window to redeem himself on ethics before he faces the voters in November.
In the waning days of the Legislature’s session, which ends June 20, he can use his considerable powers of persuasion to strike a deal with legislators on meaningful ethics legislation. Does he have the will to do it?
All it really takes is will. For years, Cuomo threw up his hands over the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference in the state Senate, whose alliance with Republicans kept the GOP minority in power. Turns out, a meeting with leaders over coffee and cookies — and a challenge from Cuomo’s left by Cynthia Nixon — was all it took for Cuomo to orchestrate a reunion.
Cuomo talks a good game on ethics, proposing bills each legislative session that never go anywhere. Sure, the governor has advanced some incremental reforms, among them better disclosure of legislators’ outside income, and a constitutional amendment that voters passed last year to strip pensions from officials convicted of felony corruption. But the Joint Commission on Public Ethics he helped create is a watchdog that doesn’t bark. The governor’s handpicked Moreland Commission was supposed to go after public corruption, but he meddled with it and disbanded it within months.
Nothing Cuomo or the Legislature has done so far has made a dent in Albany corruption.
The former leaders of the Assembly and Senate stand convicted of corruption, along with dozens of their colleagues. Cuomo’s right-hand man, Joe Percoco, was convicted of corruption in February and awaits sentencing. Another trial involving alleged bid-rigging and “pay to play” contracts in Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion economic development program begins this month.
Fighting corruption isn’t rocket science. The governor and the Legislature know what to do.
Close the “LLC loophole” that allows contributors to pour an unlimited amount of money into political campaigns. Ban “pay to play” by curtailing campaign contributions from state vendors. Create a “database of deals” to disclose the recipient of every taxpayer subsidy for economic development. Give the state Comptroller authority to vet SUNY contracts over $1 million and ban nonprofit affiliates from contracting on behalf of the state, the practice at the center of the recent corruption trials. (The bill, carried by Sen. John DeFrancisco, passed the Senate and awaits action by the Assembly.)
Neither Cuomo nor legislative leaders hold out much hope for anything of consequence to get done in the 11 days left in the legislative session, despite a long list of unfinished business. Our leaders should aim higher, and voters should punish them in November if they don’t.