Andrew Cuomo has been an aggressive attorney general by any measure, using his office to satiate the public’s demand for action on issues ranging from the bonuses paid to AIG executives to the excessive number of local government entities in New York.
And with public disgust mounting over the behavior of the State Senate, it would seem that it’s only a matter of time before Mr. Cuomo blows the lid off the place.
Certainly, with polls showing 71 percent of voters disapproving of the Senate’s behavior, it’s not for lack of public demand.
“There are enough problems in the Senate, generally, that certainly it would clear the air if we had some investigation of all of the rumors that are out there,” said Barbara Bartoletti, legislative director for the League of Women Voters. “Because Andrew Cuomo both has the office as the top lawyer and has a full staff of attorneys and has subpoena power, I don’t think that would cause Mr. Cuomo much consternation.”
(For the record, the attorney general has subpoena powers, but they are limited.)
Many of the problems revolve around State Senator Pedro Espada Jr., who threw the Senate into chaos by defecting from the Democrats to the Republicans and back again, and earned the title of majority leader for his troubles. He has shirked campaign finance laws, brought longtime associates (and briefly, his son) onto the public payroll—facilitated, significantly, by the Democratic leadership—and may not actually live in his district.
There are questions as to whether State Senator Hiram Monserrate, who also defected from the Democratic Party, temporarily, with Mr. Espada, had a monetary stipend restored in exchange for his return.
Mr. Cuomo’s office is investigating whether Mr. Espada used a nonprofit health care network he controls to further his political ends, and looked into an unsavory, doomed arrangement whereby Mr. Espada’s son, Pedro G. Espada, was hired to a newly created $120,000-a-year post with the Senate majority. (The younger Espada quickly resigned.)
As a Cuomo aide points out, the attorney general’s office wouldn’t be in a position to confirm any investigation that’s ongoing. And they say that while he hasn’t taken any action yet against the Senate in particular, he has shown himself willing to rattle cages in Albany.
“The attorney general’s public record in pursuing public integrity matters is unprecedented,” said John Milgrim. “The office will continue to aggressively pursue such matters based on evidence and the law.”
Of course, it’s not necessarily the worst thing in the world for Mr. Cuomo, politically, if things drag a bit.
It’s the world’s worst-kept secret that he wants to replace David Paterson as governor, and the polls say that he’s remarkably well positioned to do so. And while Mr. Paterson’s ongoing spat with the State Senate continues to make both of them incredibly unpopular with the public, Mr. Cuomo only looks better and better by comparison. “I don’t think the politics are particularly complicated with Andrew,” said David Grandeau, who was the aggressive executive director of the state’s lobbying commission before he was forced out by an Eliot Spitzer–sponsored restructuring of ethics enforcement. “It’s just a question of—he does the calculation—does he have more to gain or lose by taking on Mr. Espada right now?”
Last Thursday, the day before Mr. Paterson dug himself deeper into a hole by insinuating that negative press coverage of him is a racially motivated pile-on, Mr. Cuomo hosted a conference call with reporters to announce that three companies had been fraudulently providing services to immigrants. Three Assemblymen—Adriano Espaillat, Philip Ramos and Peter Rivera—also spoke on the call.
“I’m proud to be here today with Attorney General Cuomo,” said Mr. Ramos.
Mr. Cuomo thanked the three, addressing them as “my colleagues and my friends from Albany.”
The unpleasant stuff, maybe, can wait a little longer.