National News

A call to action, then ... nothing

Posted June 27, 2018 7:23 a.m. EDT

ALBANY, N.Y. _ When allegations surfaced in 2016 that then-SUNY Polytechnic Institute President Alain Kaloyeros had played a key role in one of the largest bid-rigging schemes New York has seen, Cuomo vowed to take immediate, unilateral steps to eliminate conflicts of interest in the state procurement process.

Those reforms included barring campaign donations from companies involved in a state bidding process and the appointment of a "chief procurement officer" for the executive branch to review every contract.

Cuomo also vowed to appoint new inspectors general to oversee CUNY and SUNY nonprofits, which currently do not fall under the jurisdiction of the state inspector general.

"I believe this public trust and integrity issue must be addressed _ directly and forthrightly. I don't believe in denial as a life strategy. I believe you must face your problems, no matter how unpleasant, and do your best to resolve them," Cuomo said in a lengthy November 2016 statement. "It is time for action, not words."

A year and a half later, as Cuomo's former associate stands trial, the governor has not heeded his own call to action. Cuomo's office and his campaign blame the Legislature for failing to approve a series of similar but unrelated measures.

Cuomo spokesman Richard Azzopardi said that New York already has a chief procurement officer in the Office of General Services and that the governor intended to "expand the position to extend jurisdiction to state authorities, which has been rejected by the Legislature."

In the 2016 statement, however, Cuomo specifically said that the officer would be appointed for the executive branch and be authorized to review any disbursement from the state's Division of the Budget.

Regarding the new inspectors general, the governor's office said that legislative approval was needed to create proper jurisdiction over the SUNY and CUNY nonprofits.

"As the Legislature has rejected these proposals several times, we are working with the inspector general's office and the SUNY and CUNY boards on implementing new policies to ensure proper oversight," Azzopardi said.

Yet at the time he made the pledges, Cuomo framed the appointments as "steps we can take immediately."

When asked why Cuomo has continued to accept donations from companies that are actively involved in bidding for state projects, Cuomo's campaign spokeswoman Abbey Fashouer pointed to the Legislature's inaction on an unrelated measure that would prevent vendors with business before the state from contributing to any elected offices.

"The governor advanced legislation, which was rejected out of hand by the Legislature," Fashouer said.

Azzopardi and Fashouer did not respond to questions about why Cuomo said he could take action immediately if he was referring to other measures that required legislative approval.

During the ongoing corruption trial in Manhattan, prosecutors have presented emails between Kaloyeros and former Cuomo confidante Todd Howe that suggest that they worked together to divert $865 million in construction contracts to two favored developers who contributed generously to Cuomo's campaign.

Kaloyeros and three executives from COR Development in Syracuse and LPCiminelli in Buffalo are on trial in the fraud case. Cuomo has not been accused of wrongdoing.

Cuomo recently told NY1's Roma Torre that "he hasn't been following the trial that closely" but that "if the contractor was involved in any bid-rigging, he should be prosecuted."

Pressure from the governor is believed to have prevented the Assembly from passing two bills that would increase transparency and oversight of these contracts by empowering the state comptroller to review all deals. Those measures passed the Republican-controlled Senate with overwhelming support.

Rachel.Silberstein(at)timesunion.com - 518-454-5449