When it’s quiet at the state Capitol, watch out
Chartock: The tension in Albany has lawmakers shivering and scared and waiting for the next shoe to drop.
Things are very quiet in Albany. The tension in the air has lawmakers and executives shivering and scared and waiting for the next shoe to drop.
The United States Attorneys have been very busy. On one side of the Hudson, there is the George Washington “Bridgegate” scandal. On the other side, the serious charges that have been brought against Governor Andrew Cuomo’s closest associates for some dastardly skullduggery.
Cuomo has steadfastly maintained that he knew nothing about what his friends were alleged to have done and he may well be telling the truth. If it’s true that he had no clue about some basic character flaws in his buddies, you had better believe that he is very unhappy and even sickened about his betrayal. A close friend of his tells me that is exactly the case. Cuomo’s approval rating is still above 50 percent, though down from a much higher number, so a lot of people seem ready to accept his explanation that he knew nothing.
When you are the head guy who has promised to clean up Albany, it has to be a heartbreaker when the people you trusted the most let you down in a big way. After all, you set the table and they knew it. Many, many bosses have seen this happen and Cuomo is hardly unique. When it does happen, you lose a lot of sleep and because it is such a universal phenomenon, people are inclined to give you a break. On the other hand, we are going to have some lollapalooza trials coming up and one never knows what one’s accused pals will say to save their own skins. Todd Howe has already pleaded guilty and is obviously singing like the proverbial canary.
The other big fish is Joe Percoco, who has been as close to Cuomo and his father, Mario, as a brother. Percoco is married and his wife has been implicated in the evolving mess. So ask yourself this question — who comes first, your wife or your closest friend and mentor? As I said, there is absolutely no reason to believe Andrew Cuomo is lying about what he knew about his friends’ alleged schemes to enrich themselves. All we know is that a fairly short time before Bharara announced his new charges, a lot of Cuomo’s people jumped ship. Maybe they were pushed, maybe not. Some of his closest aides had what is a called a “soft landing” in some very comfortable jobs on the “outside.” This is quite the spider’s web and it may or may not untangle as people are brought to the stand, under oath and asked questions under penalty of perjury. Bridgegate on the New Jersey side offers some instruction about what may happen at a trial. As it unfolds, each of the accused has been offering personal rationales and hearsay about what Governor Chris Christie may have known and when he knew it. Christie, like Cuomo, denies having any knowledge of what his underlings were doing to close down critical lanes on the New Jersey side of the bridge. Those who were implicated were doing it to further Christie’s career. There is a big difference between what the Christie people were doing to further their governor’s career and what the Cuomo people were allegedly doing to enrich themselves.
There is no guessing what the allegedly unscrupulous Cuomo aides will say or do to save their own skins. In the Bridgegate trial, allegations were made that Cuomo and Christie had spoken about taking the heat off Christie before Christie’s election by toning down the Bridgegate story and asking the New York Port Authority people to quiet down. Cuomo vehemently denies that ever happened. One wonders why any politician would ever say anything into a telephone or commit anything to e-mail. So far, it looks to me like Cuomo is unhappy but off the hook. On the other hand, as Preet Bharara often says, “Stay tuned.”
Sunday Freeman columnist Alan Chartock is a professor emeritus at the State University of New York, publisher of the Legislative Gazette and CEO of the WAMC Northeast Public Radio Network. Readers can email him at alan@ wamc.org.