Onondaga County executive discusses role in Cuomo's Moreland Commission

Jul 24, 2014

A New York Times report alleges that a senior aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo interfered with the work of the Moreland Commission, the group the governor appointed to investigate corruption in Albany. The Times story also accuses Cuomo's office of trying to stop the commission from investigating groups tied to him. Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney was a member of the commission and Grant Reeher, host of WRVO's Campbell Conversations, interviewed Mahoney after the Times report came out.

GR: With this report, are you surprised by anything in it?

JM: Well, I don't think that the full story is anywhere near out. And I think it's one of those stories that you're going to have to wait until you get all the way to the end, and then when people feel like they're more free to talk about things, you'll start to be able to get a more clear picture. My comments that got me in trouble to some extent were not, you know, no one ever said that to me, as a Moreland [Commission] member, no one ever said to me that anything was off-limits. And I believe that we had the ability to go anywhere that we wanted to go and to do anything that we wanted to do. There's two points I want to make. One is me, personally, I wanted to focus on the policies that made the fraud possible. I wanted to focus on the policies and not the individuals. And as a result, I wasn't on the investigative committee. But, having said that no one ever told me that we were prevented from doing anything, my point was who in the public is going to believe anything that comes out of a commission, in terms of an investigation of the people that appointed us. And that was my point. I'm on a commission with a group of district attorneys, and I said, "How many of you have ever conducted an investigation where you've let the subject of your investigation pick their own investigators?" It was a broader point, but it did cause controversy that I regretted after the fact.

GR: But did, I'm curious now, you didn't get a sense of this directly, but did you ever have someone from the commission say to you, 'We were told hands off here," or "We were told to back off?"

JM: The conversations that I'm hearing about now, I think took place among the chairs. And there was an obvious leak inside the commission, because we would have a meeting and then it would all be documented in the newspaper. And then we would all come back together and it was kind of strange, because everybody knew that somebody was talking, and they weren't necessarily giving an accurate description of what was happening. But since they were the one that was talking, that was what the public was being left to believe was happening with the Moreland Commission. So, as a result, the chairs handled more of that among themselves. For instance, these investigations, I never knew the names of the senators. It was senator #1, senator #2, senator #3. I never knew who we were talking about. And I think that was purposeful because there were people that were inappropriately talking to the press and that was people who were trying to prevent something damaging being leaked.

GR: How will The New York Times story hurt Gov. Cuomo going forward, and especially in terms of his attempt to portray himself as a political reformer?

JM: Well, I think the governor is a political reformer. And I know if you look even before the Moreland Commission existed he tried very hard to get reforms in place, and then he put this commission together. I think that the public knows that this is a very difficult thing to do, to get politicians to put rules in place that will police themselves, and I think the governor has had a lot of success doing that. And when he is out and able to talk to the public and point to the reforms that he did put in place, they're far more than people who preceded him were able to do. Was it as far as we need to go? No. We have more reform in place now than we did before Gov. Cuomo, and I think ultimately that's what's going to matter to people.