A day after his appointees torpedoed pay raises for state legislators, saying they can't be put into place without ethics reforms that appear unlikely to pass anytime soon, Governor Andrew Cuomo has pledged to enact several other ethics tweaks, and push for several more. The announcement also comes as federal prosecutors are presumably preparing corruption indictments of two former top aides to the governor and the man Cuomo once hailed as a tech "pioneer" who made New York an industry "leader."
Cuomo took some of the reform steps unilaterally as governor. In response to alleged misappropriations by the now-former president of City College, he directed the City University of New York Board to investigate senior management across the 24-campus system and present their findings to the state Inspector General's Office within a month. Also, apparently in response to the arrest of Cuomo's nanotech czar Alain Kaloyeros on state and federal charges including alleged bid-rigging State University of New York projects, Cuomo is creating inspector general offices for both the CUNY and SUNY school systems.
Separate charges, against Kaloyeros, Cuomo top aide Joe Percoco, and Cuomo aide-turned-lobbyist Todd Howe, as well as several developers, allege that the Cuomo cronies rigged bids for massive state-funded tech development projects, in exchange for kickbacks and hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations to Cuomo's campaign. In Wednesday's announcement, the governor said he will establish a procurement officer position for the Governor's Office, tasked with reviewing all state contracts in an effort to cut down on conflicts of interest. Good-government advocates pointed out after the announcement that the state Comptroller's Office already does this, and it's unclear how the new position would be different.
Cuomo's promises also included a pledge to refuse campaign contributions from companies during request for proposals submissions periods and for six months after contracts are awarded, and to call on the Democratic Party to do the same. Speaking to Albany's Times Union, the group Reinvent Albany questioned why Cuomo didn't just ban contributions from companies doing business with the state altogether.
November 23rd is the deadline for federal indictments against the eight charged with corruption, according to the Times Union.
In his announcement, Cuomo did not directly reference the corruption investigations that have roiled his administration and tarnished projects that he had pointed to as signature achievements, but he wrote:
I cannot tell the people of our state that we can end all fraud or corruption. I was an Assistant District Attorney and I was Attorney General. I’ve handled hundreds of criminal cases. I have seen too much unseemly behavior to be naïve about the power of temptation. There are more than 10,000 governments in this state with more than 300,000 employees. People will commit venal and greedy acts. They will do selfish and, frankly, stupid things. We have seen it throughout history. Virtually every administration in every era has been touched by it. I have seen it myself, and I have been shocked and hurt by it.
One measure that Cuomo has failed to get movement on in the legislature despite years of exhortations from civic activists and his own recent emphasis on the issue is making state lawmakers officially full-time employees and placing strict limits on outside income. State legislators make less than $80,000 a year in salary, and their leeway to moonlight has provided cover for numerous instances of corruption, including the pay-to-play schemes that recently netted former Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver and former Senate leader Dean Skelos federal corruption convictions. Cuomo's appointees on a state panel on legislator pay sunk the commission's deliberations in acrimony and dysfunction on Tuesday by refusing to vote, saying the legislature, which is not in session, needs to pass outside income limits before they will approve raises.
In Wednesday's announcement, as he faced condemnation from leaders of both parties and both the Assembly and Senate, Cuomo again urged legislators to enact outside income limits "to end chronic conflicts of interests that have plagued the New York State Legislature for many years."
Citizens Union director Dick Dadey told the New York Times that, 1,500-word statement on corruption measures aside, Cuomo needs to do more to fight corruption.
"Even his own administration has not been without corruption allegations and lived up to the principles he espouses so well," Dadey said. "He needs to focus seriously on preventing corruption. He needs to be willing to take stronger actions to enact laws that accomplish that goal."
Cuomo also called for expanding the authority of the state ethics panel JCOPE, which Mayor de Blasio has accused of a politically motivated investigation into the mayor's campaign finances, banning political nonprofits like the kind he and de Blasio have used to subvert campaign-finance limits, and create a public financing system for political campaigns.
Cuomo's office did not respond for a request for comment on how the procurement officer would differ from the state comptroller, or why he wants a time-limited ban on state contractor contributions, as opposed to an outright ban.
Update 4:30 p.m.:
A Governor's Office spokeswoman said that the position would be focused on analyzing the procurement process at various agencies and would be tasked with coming up with and implementign contractor best practices that would make the comptroller's life easier.
The state Comptroller's Office said this statement, "We are reviewing the Governor's proposal, and look forward to more details when they are available."
A Comptroller's Office spokeswoman said the agency had a number of questions about what a procurement officer's role would look like, i.e. whether it would create an additional required step in the contract approval process, how it would differ from the chief procurement officer role that currently exists in the state's Office of General Services, and whether it would involve training agencies on procurement, which the Comptroller's Office already does.