Cuomo’s controlling instincts
In probing corruption and pushing gambling, Cuomo imposes his willComments (2)
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Gov. Cuomo takes great pride — largely justified — in having squeezed functionality from New York’s notoriously dysfunctional state government.
|Governor Andrew Cuomo|
His forceful, results-oriented leadership style has achieved impressive results, including three on-time budgets, much-needed spending discipline, the legalization of gay marriage and some of the country’s strongest gun control laws.
But looking too closely at how Cuomo imposes his will on others can sometimes make you queasy.
One case in point: the revelation that the governor has been interfering in the operations of his supposedly independent Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption.
Another: his out-of-line attempts to manipulate this fall’s referendum on casino gambling.
In both cases, Cuomo has let his controlling instincts go too far.
Multiple sources tell the Daily News’ Kenneth Lovett that Cuomo and his staff have quietly pressured his own anti-corruption panel into dropping certain lines of inquiry — including canceling a planned subpoena of the Real Estate Board of New York.
The REBNY query was expected to shed light on an infamous backroom deal that awarded massive tax breaks to five luxury highrises in Manhattan. The board and its members had lobbied hard for the breaks for billionaires while doling out million in contributions to various lawmakers — making it just the sort of situation a serious probe of Albany sleaze should examine.
But among those who potentially stood to be embarrassed was Cuomo himself — who had received a healthy share of the campaign cash and signed the tax breaks into law as part of a larger housing bill.
That being the case, he and his people should have stayed miles away.
Remember that Cuomo had repeatedly threatened to appoint this commission if the Legislature failed to act on certain reforms — a level of political hardball he justified as necessary to force change.
This year, he followed through — appointing the panel in July along with Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.
Back then, Cuomo called it “an independent commission that is free to investigate whatever they feel needs to be investigated on the merits.”
But legislators derided the probe as a political witch hunt, predicting it would be aimed exclusively at them.
Cuomo’s actions have confirmed their fears — and cost the commission a big piece of credibility.
To regain what’s left of the high ground, Cuomo must go back to his original promise of independence — and back off from any further back-channel communication with the commission.
He should also give the panel a fixed, public budget to make clear that its staffers’ salaries are not dependent on his continuing good will.
Members of the commission and their staff must reestablish credibility by cutting off all further contact with the governor’s office — beyond what’s required by law and also made available to the public.
Cuomo’s effort to manipulate commission members is bad enough. His attempt to manipulate the voters into approving a massive expansion of gambling is arguably worse.
Cuomo is pushing for November passage of a constitutional amendment authorizing up to seven casinos — in the dubious belief that they will boost the upstate economy rather than simply drain the pockets of gamblers.
First, he silenced the potential opposition by cutting deals with upstate Indian tribes.
Then, he passed a law declaring that the state would add thousands more video-lottery parlors — which are casinos by another name — if the amendment is defeated. His message to the voters: I’m going to expand gambling no matter how you vote.
Last but not least, he prevailed on the Board of Elections to approve wording for the ballot proposal that declares the casinos will be all about “promoting job growth, increasing aid to schools and permitting local governments to lower property taxes.”
The board somehow neglected to mention lining the pockets of casino owners and impoverishing compulsive gamblers.
The early signs are that this Cuomoesque manipulation could work.
When Siena pollsters asked voters a straight question about Las Vegas-style casinos, they were split down the middle, 49% to 49%.
But when pollsters read the slanted ballot language, 55% said yes and 42% said no.
Sure, the governor may win both of these fights — but what will he lose in the process?