Despite criminal cases of aides, donors, Cuomo maintains high approval rating
The felony indictments of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s former aides and campaign donors is a stunning new chapter in the annals of Albany corruption, but how the story will end for the governor remains a mystery.
Cuomo has not been charged with a crime, nor has he been blamed by voters for the worst corruption scandal in recent history. A poll this month showed him with a 65 percent approval rating among New York City voters as he gears up to run for a third term, portraying himself as an innocent victim rather than an enabler of corruption.
“As I said two months ago when the U.S. attorney first made this case public, this is a profoundly sad situation for me personally,” Cuomo said in a statement released after the indictments came down two days before Thanksgiving. “Now the justice system must take its course, and any of those found guilty of abusing the public’s trust should and will be punished.”
That assessment wasn’t shared by New York state Republican Chairman Ed Cox, the son-in-law of the late President Richard Nixon and Cuomo’s most fervent critic.
“Joe Percoco — who Governor Cuomo has described as a ‘brother’ — was long known as the governor’s enforcer, and under his direction and blessing, brazenly wielded power to mete out punishments to enemies and reward friends and donors,” Cox said. “Cuomo’s call for ethics reform is nothing more than lipstick on a pig timed to feign virtuousness. New Yorkers will see through this charade for what it really is and hold the Governor accountable for his corrupt administration.”
Those indicted included Percoco, Cuomo’s righthand man, gatekeeper and re-election campaign manager. He has worked for the Cuomo family in one capacity or another since he was a teenager. Also indicted was SUNY Poly’s now ex-president, Alain Kaloyeros, a Cuomo chum and $1 million a year state worker who was his top operative for upstate economic development, including the $750 million taxpayer-built Buffalo Billion SolarCity plant.
The others indicted include executives of LPCiminelli, Buffalo’s biggest construction company; COR Development, a large Central New York firm; and Competitive Power Ventures, a utility company building a huge power plant in the Hudson Valley. Both COR and Ciminelli are major Cuomo campaign donors.
All the defendants could face long federal prison terms if convicted. They are expected to enter pleas next week in a case that U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara says exposed “pervasive corruption and fraud” in state economic development programs run by the Cuomo administration.
The bribery and fraud indictment says COR and LPCiminelli got state contracts worth $15 million, $90 million and $750 million after bribing lobbyist and SUNY Poly employee Todd Howe and making campaign donations to Cuomo. Kaloyeros is accused of secretly fixing the
The indictment also refers to “The Percoco Bribery Scheme” and says COR paid $35,000 and CPV paid $287,000 in bribes to Percoco. Percoco’s wife, who has not been charged with any crime, also got a $7,500 a month “low-show” job with CPV, prosecutors allege.
As described in court papers, the case has the trappings of a Mafia movie, with Percoco and Howe referring to bribe money as “ziti,” and taking on nicknames. Percoco was also known as “Herb,” according to the indictment, while Kaloyeros was “Dr. K.”
The indictments followed a September guilty plea by lobbyist Todd Howe, another longtime aide-de-camp to the Cuomo family, working for both Mario Cuomo in Albany and for Andrew Cuomo during his time as HUD secretary. Howe, who first hired Percoco to work for the Cuomos, is now cooperating with prosecutors in the case against Cuomo’s inner circle.
The indictments followed the separate arrests and convictions of Cuomo’s former partners in state government, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, and Senate Majority Leader Dead Skelos, a Long Island Republican, who are both facing long prison terms for bribery, fraud and other crimes.
Cuomo also drew condemnations for shutting down the Moreland investigation of Albany corruption in 2014. That move led Bharara to take over the probe that claimed the legislative leaders and remains
Through all this indisputably bad news, “Cuomo is top of the heap” in New York politics, as Quinnipiac pollster Mickey Carroll put it this month. His sky-high approval rating in New York City falls sharply in other parts of the state, but it does at this point make him a favorite to win a third term in 2018.
A SIena Poll in June put his approval rating statewide at 56 percent. His high point is a 77 percent approval rating recorded right after he took office in 2011.
This month, Cuomo released the latest in a long line of ethics proposals he has made as governor. “Changes need to be made to restore faith at every level of government,” Cuomo said in his statement about Percoco’s indictment. “My administration has taken a number of steps in the past several months to reform the procurement process, and has proposed additional measures for the Legislature to take up when they return.”
His latest plan, put out in the form of a press release, called for a review of management practices at SUNY and CUNY, the appointment of a “chief procurement officer” in the Governor’s Office, and a sixmonth waiting period on campaign donations from companies seeking state contracts.
He reiterated his support for an outside income cap of 15 percent of a legislative salary, and said all state and local officials should have to disclose any outside income for themselves and their spouses. He also again called for tighter regulation of advocacy groups trying to influence public policy and decision making.
Andrew Cuomo, top right, and Joseph Percoco, top center, greet voters during a campaign stop in Greenwich, N.Y., in 2010.