Brooklyn Congressman Hakeem Jeffries called for the Democratic National Committee to give Gov. Andrew Cuomo a chance to address the nation at its convention in July—despite an escalating Justice Department investigation into one of the governor’s key economic development initiatives and one of his closest aides.
Mr. Jeffries argued to the Observer today that the governor’s policy successes had “absolutely” earned him billing at the Philadelphia conclave, despite the probe into whether the state handed handed sweetheart contracts to Mr. Cuomo’s campaign donors through the Buffalo Billion program in Western New York. The governor’s administration appeared to admit last month that Joseph Percoco—the governor’s political enforcer and body man—had possibly engaged in “improper lobbying” and that contractors may have “deceived” and “defrauded” the state.
“The governor has phenomenal track record of success here in New York, in terms of on-time budgets, investment in economic development, reforming the criminal justice system, ushering into law the passage of marriage equality. He has a phenomenal story to tell, based on his success as governor,” the congressman said. “I think it would be a great thing for New York if he’s on the national stage.”
Each convention features a number of speakers, but the most coveted slot is the primetime keynote address—which Mr. Cuomo’s late father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, gave in 1984. The governor has used father’s name and image in recent speeches and political efforts, and some have speculated he hopes to deliver the much-feted oration this year.
But at home, Mr. Cuomo faces intense scrutiny from U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who has subpoenaed reams of documents relating to the Buffalo Billion. Of particular interest is some $125,000 Mr. Percoco received from COR Development in Syracuse and from CHA Consulting in Albany, both entities with ties to the program and significant business before the state.
The Cuomo lieutenant took the cash while on a break he took from his job as executive deputy secretary in order to manage the governor’s 2014 re-election campaign.
The administration abruptly announced in April it had enlisted Giuliani-era federal prosecutor Bart Schwartz to conduct an internal “full review” of the Buffalo Billion’s contracting, to root out any evidence of “self-dealing.” It also ordered state employees to sever contact with D.C. lobbyist Todd Howe and with Maryland-based energy company Competitive Power Ventures.
Mr. Percoco officially left his position with the state at the end of last year to take a job at Madison Square Garden, but continued to regularly appear with the governor at events. He has worked with Mr. Cuomo since his days as secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development during the Clinton administration, and also served under the governor’s father.
Mr. Howe was also a top advisor to Mr. Cuomo at HUD, and contributed to both the governor’s campaign coffers and to those of Lieutenant Gov. Kathy Hochul, a native of the Buffalo area. CPV and its various offshoots have given more than $80,000 to the governor’s coffers.
But Mr. Jeffries asserted today that the assortment of local, state and federal investigations into Mayor Bill de Blasio’s political fundraising and relations with developers are more significant.
“Well, last time I checked there was potentially one investigation emanating from the state house as it relates to someone who is no longer employed by the governor, and there are multiple investigations emanating from City Hall, I think five at last count,” the congressman said. “There’s smoke, no evidence of fire.”