“We have to spend a lot of time making sure we protect the identities of whistleblowers, witnesses and complainants because we don’t want people to be afraid to come forward,” he said, during an interview earlier this month in his office on the 25th floor of 120 Broadway, which has a view of the federal courthouses at Foley Square. “In addition, obviously, when he’s having meetings about investigations and cases, it’s extremely important we keep the details and nature of those meetings confidential, because, if people knew, for example, we were meeting about an ongoing investigation, it may hurt the investigation. So, it’s very important we protect the confidentiality of those meetings.”
(Moments before Mr. Lawsky began his explanation, Cuomo appeared in the doorway, jacket off, cufflinks in place. He had just emerged from what I was told was a confidential meeting, and was on his way to deliver remarks to the New York State United Teachers annual conference in midtown.)
Mr. Lawsky said that Mr. Cuomo and his top aides are intently focused on their caseload. He said there have been more than 100 meetings about their well-publicized student loan investigation in 2007 alone; at least another 50 on home mortgage fraud; 60 on public integrity—including, presumably, all the Spitzer-related stuff from July 2007; 50 on environmental investigations; and 75 on Medicaid fraud and other health care fraud cases.
All of these made it difficult to account in too much detail for Mr. Cuomo’s doings.
Interestingly, Mr. Cuomo—who is unofficially but unmistakably interested in running for higher office at some point in the future—has sought to make transparency and openness in government one of the hallmarks of his t
enure, and he reaped considerable public-relations benefits last year from hiring New York Public Interest Research Group executive director Blair Horner, a well-known good-government watchdog, as his legislative director. (Mr. Horner recently left the attorney general’s office to return to his post at NYPIRG.)
After creating a database to cross-reference legislators’ bills, member items, the political contributions they received and who lobbies them, Mr. Cuomo was named the honorary chairman of the New York Press Association’s Sunshine Week, which focuses on accessing government information.
“By definition, government is only as good as the trust citizens’ place in it,” Mr. Cuomo said in a public statement that announced he was being honored. “That trust can be earned when information that can empower the citizenry is pulled from the shadows and made open and accessible.”
A cynical explanation of the refusal to release even a redacted set of real-time schedules by Mr. Cuomo—a publicity-conscious individual, even by politicians’ standards—is that he’s intent on telling his story in his own way, and on his own timeline. He has been careful since taking office to publicize his work as attorney general—investigations into school-loan scandals, Medicaid fraud and mortgage lending rip-offs—while not actually being seen to promote himself personally, in the way that he frequently did in the days before his calamitous first bid for public office in 2002.
So in the matter of his selectively provided schedule, has he met his own high standards?
Dick Dadey, the executive director of Citizens Union, a good-government group, said, “You do not want to make available your schedule if you’re in the midst of an investigation, and tip off the subjects. That makes sense. But then why not just provide the schedule and have those meetings blacked out?”
I also called NYPIRG’s Mr. Horner—the former Cuomo employee—who promptly referred me to a nonconflicted colleague.
“I assume there is some way of tracking his appointments in his calendar,” said Russ Haven, NYPIRG’s legislative counsel. “Perhaps there is some exception because he’s a law enforcement official. But I think those kind of things, whether it’s the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general or comptroller, would be fair game, since they’re public officials.”