Andrew M. Cuomo ran for governor in 2010 on a promise to clean up Albany. But the scandals keep coming.
During his six years in office, a steady stream of legislators has been convicted of corruption. In September, Cuomo’s own office was stained when U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara charged two former close aides and a trusted senior state official with conspiring to rig bids and steer contracts to favored companies as part of Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion economic development program.
So perhaps it is no surprise that the governor has released yet another flurry of ethics proposals. A mix of old and new ideas, some of which can really make a difference, would cover a range of players including the State Legislature, the SUNY and CUNY systems, and the executive branch. And while the details still to come are critical, Cuomo has provided a framework for discussion and possible legislation.
But the timing of his announcement, nearly eight weeks before the start of the next legislative session, was curious. It came two days after state lawmakers balked at his attempt to link a pay raise for them to a limit on the outside income they can earn.
And it came days before the Nov. 23 deadline for Bharara to deliver indictments in the bidding case, in which former Cuomo aide Joseph Percoco and two others allegedly sought or received more than $315,000 in bribes from companies that were Cuomo campaign contributors seeking state contracts. Cuomo might be trying to reclaim control of the anti-corruption narrative. But whatever his motivation, his proposals should be evaluated on their merits.
Right now, that’s a mixed bag. His plan to appoint inspectors general for the SUNY and CUNY contracting systems, coming off a report this week of CUNY mismanagement, creates two new positions to do what the state comptroller once did — before Cuomo and the legislature stripped the power to pre-approve such contracts from Thomas DiNapoli in 2011. It might make more sense to first restore that and other authority taken from DiNapoli, with whom Cuomo has feuded.
Cuomo said he will appoint a chief procurement officer for his own executive branch to review all state contracts — potentially a good idea. But the position would report to Cuomo, raising questions about a lack of independent oversight.
The efficacy of a proposal to ban campaign contributions from companies bidding on contracts until six months after deals are awarded depends entirely on how strongly the legislation is written and how wide a net it casts. But his calls for public campaign financing and the outside income limit are familiar, and still worthwhile. And his wise call for greater financial disclosure from local officials in the wake of recent conflicts of interest exposed in local governments was a clear reference to the indictments of Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano and Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto.
Cuomo clearly was embarrassed by the scandal with roots in his own office. But earlier impassioned pleas for ethics reform fell short in the legislative sessions that followed. These proposals are a solid place to start. And then Cuomo and the legislature should cooperate on a raft of legislation that finally starts to rid Albany of its stench. — The editorial board