One of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’ s political opponents is calling on Cuomo to hold an explanatory press conference, and another is demanding that the governor to resign after an in-depth account in The New York Times reports that the governor’s top staff repeatedly interfered in an ethics commission investigation.
Cuomo created the ethics commission under the state’s Moreland Act a little over a year ago amidst rampant corruption rampant in the legislature, that included a string of indictments, resignations and jailings of lawmakers.
Cuomo addressed the newly appointed commissioners on July 2, 2013.
“We’re going to punish the wrongdoers,” Cuomo said.
Cuomo told the panel not to stop at just probing the legislature, and he said the executive branch which he controls would not be off limits. One of the co-chairman of the Moreland Commission, and Onondaga District Attorney William Fitzpatrick at the time described his mission.
“We’ll do what deep throat told Bob Woodward to do,” Fitzpatrick said. “Follow the money.”
The commission began its probes, but according to The Times report, when it came too close to the governor, his chief of staff, Larry Schwartz, intervened, and asked that subpoenas be rescinded. In one instance, an investigation involved a media buying company that listed Cuomo among its many political clients. The article alleges that the interference by the governor’s aides “deeply compromised the panel’s work,” something Cuomo’s spokesman, in a lengthy statement, denies.
The Moreland Commission was disbanded abruptly in late March, after Cuomo reached a deal with the legislature on some ethics reform that critics at the time called weak and watered down. The governor said he’s always told the commissioners that they might have to end their probes unfinished.
“I said consistently that if we passed that law that we would end Moreland, and we have,” Cuomo said in early April.
Barbara Bartoletti, with the League of Women Voters, a special advisor to the Moreland Commission, says Cuomo gave up too much when he pulled the plug. She says she had high hopes when the commission began, and members were deputized by the state attorney general to conduct criminal investigations.
“Albany really revolves to keep incumbents in power with all the attendant perks,” Bartoletti said. “ I thought this might actually bring the public awareness up, and I don’t think it did that, unfortunately , it didn’t go on long enough.”
Bartoletti was not a voting member, so she was not privy to many of the details of on going investigations or of any possible interference from the governor’s office. But she says as the commission meetings progressed through the fall of 2013, it became obvious that someone was pulling the strings. She says the top commission members arrived late at the meetings, after seeming to have their own a private behind the scenes meeting first.
“I’ve been around Albany long enough to know that when things happen behind closed doors there’s usually a reason for that,” Bartoletti said.
After the Moreland Commission, that could have been the end of the probes, but the investigations have been picked up by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who criticized the commission for ending without finishing the probes.
Since then, a Bronx Assemblywoman has resigned and pleaded guilty to fraud, the state Senate Republican deputy majority leader from Binghamton has been indicted, and another senator from western New York has resigned as a top aid has been subpoenaed by Bharara’s office.
Bartoletti says the legacy of the Moreland commission will continue to play out in the coming months as the US Attorney continues his probes, and she says she hopes Bharara has more success.
Meanwhile, Cuomo’s political opponents are seizing on The Times article .
Republican candidate for governor Rob Astorino says Cuomo “has a lot of explaining to do,” and he should be doing it immediately by holding a news conference to explain the charges in the story that Astorino says has a “strong likelihood of resulting in indictments and criminal charges.”
“The governor is hiding from the press already,” said Astorino. “The public has a right to know what their governor knows, or did not know, what he permitted, and what his role is in this. This is a serious charge.”
Astorino says he’d also like to know why a top Cuomo aide accused of quashing subpoenas hasn’t been fired.
And Cuomo’s opponent in the Democratic primary, Fordham law school professor Zephyr Teachout, says the governor should resign immediately, and says Cuomo’s public indiscretions are far worse than the private indiscretions that led one of his predecessors Eliot Spitzer to resign.