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NY's Top Officials Should Have More Power to Police Corruption, Republican Candidates Say

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Paul Rodriguez (Left), Republican candidate for state comptroller, and Michael Henry (Right), Republican candidate for state attorney general
Credit: New York NOW

New York's 2022 Elections

Republicans running for statewide office in New York said Thursday they would try to beef up the powers of the positions they’re seeking to root out corruption in state government, pointing to the recent resignation of former Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin.

It’s the latest signal that Republicans plan to incorporate Albany’s recent complications with corruption into their campaigns during this year’s election cycle.

Michael Henry, a Republican running for state attorney general, said the Legislature should give that office more power to independently investigate cases of public corruption, sexual harassment, and more.

“There needs to be an independence in that office to where they’re not having to go to anyone to get permission, especially if they do investigate that person,” Henry said.

He was referring to last year’s controversies surrounding former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who resigned from office after a report from the Attorney General’s Office found several claims of sexual harassment made against him to be credible. He’s denied those claims.

Incumbent New York Attorney General Letitia James, a Democrat, had brought on a pair of independent attorneys to investigate the allegations against Cuomo, but wasn’t allowed to launch that probe until the former governor gave her the green light.

That’s because, under state law, the attorney general’s office can’t launch an investigation into most cases of public corruption and harassment without a referral from another state entity.

“I think you handcuff the attorney general in this state,” Henry said. “And that is something I would talk to members of the Legislature and try to get them to change.”

James has held a similar position in the past.

When she first ran for the position four years ago, James said she’d already started to have conversations with leaders from the Legislature about giving the office more power to proactively pursue cases of public corruption.

Democrats, who control the Legislature, would have to approve new laws to expand the powers of her office, which are spelled out in statute.

But, since then, the Legislature has been reluctant to consider that idea. Lawmakers haven’t seriously considered legislation that would give the office more teeth.

That’s left James, and her office, largely out of recent high-profile investigations involving public corruption.

There’s no indication that James’ office, for example, was involved in the federal investigation into Benjamin that led to his resignation. He was charged last week with promising state funds to a nonprofit in exchange for campaign contributions.

She said Thursday that her office hadn’t been in contact with federal investigators.

“As public servants, all of us are tasked with the responsibility of holding ourselves to a very high standard, and it’s unfortunate that, in this particular situation, that was violated,” James said.

Paul Rodriguez, a Republican running for state comptroller, said that statewide officials already have certain tools to root out misconduct, but that more could be done.

He said that, if he were elected, he would use the comptroller’s office to bring more attention to areas in which the state could do better.

“There’s no limitation in the comptroller using his or her bully pulpit to really get those issues out and bring attention to a lot of the waste, and corruption that’s happening in the state,” Rodriguez said.

Incumbent Comptroller Tom DiNapoli said this week that his office had identified nearly $1 billion in billing errors under the state’s Medicaid program, which is managed by the Department of Health.

Rodriguez said that’s one situation where the state comptroller could advocate for changes in policy and regulation to avoid a similar situation in the future.

“Okay, you’ve discovered it. Now, what are you going to do about it?” Rodriguez said.

Both Henry and Rodriguez are expected to be on the ballot in November as their party’s nominees for their respective prospective offices. 


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