The second set of corruption convictions of former associates of Governor Cuomo has renewed calls to reform the governor’s multi-billion dollar economic development program that was at the heart of the bribery and bid-rigging cases. But Cuomo says the problem has already been fixed.
The former head of SUNY Polytechnic Institute, Alain Kaloyeros, who also designed the governor’s vast upstate economic development program, including the Buffalo Billion, faces sentencing in October. He and three upstate developers were convicted on twelve counts on July 12th in a bid-rigging trial in federal district court.
That comes just four months after the governor’s former closest aide, Joe Percoco was convicted of running bribery schemes in connection with the economic development grants awarded to contractors.
Blair Horner, with the reform organization New York Public Interest Research Group, says it’s another in a series of scandals that have occurred at state Capitol, including the corruption trials of the two former majority party legislative leaders.
Horner says it’s “stunning” that Cuomo and the legislature have not changed the laws to prevent similar corruption in the future.
“In a normal, function democracy, when you have scandals of this size there would be hearings being held, there would be news conferences and proposals advanced,” Horner said. “Within Albany, there’s really nothing”.
NYPIRG and other reform groups want to reinstate the state Comptroller’s authority to review the economic development contracts and to create a public database of all taxpayer-funded projects awarded to developers. Horner says they’d also like to see a ban on campaign contributions from developers who win large state contracts. The three developers who were also convicted in the trial have contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to Cuomo’s campaign, which is legal under state rules.
“We think the governor should call for a special session devoted, with a laser-like focus, on how to combat corruption,” Horner said.
Cuomo, speaking with reporters in New York City, says he has already changed the system that led to the bid-rigging by Kaloyeros and the developers. He says he switched authority over the programs from the State University system to his own Empire State Development agency. He says he made some changes recommended by a consultant to increase transparency in the deals and overhauled the boards of two entities that oversaw the projects and limited the scope of their decision making powers.
“We overhauled the whole system,” Cuomo said.
Cuomo downplayed the scandal, saying this is only a few instances out of an over $150 billion dollar state budget, and thousands of awards to contractors who do business with the state.
Cuomo, who has said repeatedly that he didn’t know about the bid-rigging, says if he was fooled, he wasn’t the only governor who might have been misled. Kaloyeros has been working for the state since Cuomo’s father, Mario Cuomo, was governor, as well as during the tenures of Republican George Pataki and Democrats Eliot Spitzer and David Paterson.
“Mr. Kaloyeros was surprising to everyone because he was a 20-25 year state employee,” Cuomo said. “He predated me.”
The governor also addressed the campaign donations he received from the convicted developers. He says when the charges were announced, he set that money aside and plans to talk to the prosecutors about whether the donations should be returned.