Perdido 03

Perdido 03

Monday, May 2, 2016

How Could Control Freak Cuomo Be Unaware Of Buffalo Billion Malfeasance?

That's Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin tweeting what everybody in Albany knows about Andrew Cuomo - that NOTHING happens in his administration that he doesn't know about.

Here's Glenn Thrush in the Washington Post hitting a similar note in his review of the Shnayerson biography of Cuomo, The Contender:

Cuomo’s 2010 landslide election as governor revealed him to be a control freak’s control freak — in the inside-government parlance of D.C. and Albany, a principal who behaved like staff. During the best of times, that approach served noble purposes: To squeeze the final six votes needed to pass same-sex marriage in 2011, he offered a Mario-like appeal to posterity and morality. “Where in history do you want to be in this story?” he asked one Democrat who eventually voted for the measure.

This is what Americans allegedly want in a leader: someone who is willing to break gridlock and impose bipartisan order on chaos. But they don’t want too much of it, and Cuomo too often skirts the line between management and mania.

Compared with President Obama, who is so allergic to chatting up legislators that aides have to hector him to pick up the phone, Cuomo is admirably hands-on and willing to stake political capital on bold action (although Shnayerson’s repeated comparisons to LBJ are over the top). But Cuomo’s style can be too overtly manipulative — it’s not enough to wield power; he seems to want lesser men and women to bend to his will.

If one single action defined — and diminished — Cuomo, it was his ham-fisted attempt to control the Moreland Commission, an anti-corruption panel he created to probe misdeeds in the ever-corrupt state legislature. In 2013, he promised the commission unfettered investigative power — only to kill it a year later, after it began to probe the political dealings of his top aides. Shnayerson concisely details this crucial part of the story, arguably the most important episode of Cuomo’s three-decade career, but offers little new information to augment the excellent newspaper coverage.

No charges have been filed against any of Cuomo’s aides. But a serious presidential contender would be certain to face relentless questioning on the matter. Cuomo would also face scrutiny of his recent decisions to purge the state’s e-mail servers and exempt his live-in girlfriend from state financial-disclosure laws.

This compulsion to control everything around him isn’t limited to governing. Shnayerson should know. In 2012, the governor summoned him to an oyster bar on the East Side of Manhattan to make a stunning offer: Ditch the idea of writing an independent biography, Cuomo said, and co-write my book — I’ll give you complete access to my family, staff and former business associates. “Thank God I didn’t do that,” Shnayerson told the Wall Street Journal this month. “I think it would have been a hellish experience.”

Shnayerson made the right call. But it would have added greatly to this interesting, if incomplete, portrait of a power-obsessed politician if he had included that story in his book. 

The governor's office was just hit with a subpoena related to Preet Bharara's investigation of Cuomo's vaunted Buffalo Billion Project and news that two of Cuomo's former aides - including someone whom he described as so close to his family that his father considered him a "third son" - are under the microscope for corruption.

After news broke Friday about more Buffalo Billion subpoenas and the feds eyeing Cuomo's inner circle, Cuomo's office issued the following press release that acknowledged there was indeed a problem with his Buffalo Billion Project:

“The state has reason to believe that in certain circumstances and regulatory approvals they have been defrauded by improper rigging and failures to disclose potential conflicts of interests by lobbyists and former state employees,” stated Bart M. Schwartz, a former federal prosecutor retained by the Cuomo administration.

This was quite an admission, since for a long time now, Cuomo and his minions were claiming the Buffalo Billion Project was the swellest thing since the Hoover Dam (see here and here, for example) - this despite multiple reports of a federal investigation into the project by Preet Bharara for alleged bid rigging and associated corruption (though to be fair, Cuomo did acknowledge back in September that he would be open to changes to the state contracting business if Bharara's probe found any malfeasance.)

Cuomo even wrote about the Buffalo Billion in his own book, All Things Possible, claiming it was a model program for revitalization for other upstate and western New York urban areas:

Gov. Andrew Cuomo's new book spends three of its nearly 500 pages espousing his focus on improving Buffalo, which he says has been "New York's biggest economic challenge."

The books rehashes most of his argument why Buffalo needed $1 billion in state aid more than other upstate cities, which are also struggling. He also reiterated a point he's made recently: He wants to focus his attention to other upstate cities in a second term.

He continues, "Rochester, Syracuse, Utica, Watertown and others merit their own version of the Buffalo model. Buffalo showed that the approach works -- in the most difficult application. These intensive economic models take tremendous time, energy, and expertise, and my administration is committed to them."


Cuomo reiterated his points in the book to reporters last month, saying Buffalo is a template of what can be done across upstate. He said Buffalo's problems -- the city is about half the size it was in the 1950s -- was most acute.

"You saw young people leave, you saw companies leave, and there was a general assumption that the upstate New York economy was irredeemable," Cuomo said. "And we said, ‘We deny that assumption and we’re going to prove it,' and we went to the hardest hit economy in the state of New York, and that was Buffalo.'"

He said he's put more focus on upstate New York than any other governor in recent times, saying as the economy struggled and the population dwindled, the area had lost its clout with New York political leaders.

"It’s undeniable that upstate New York is doing better. It’s undeniable. It’s in the numbers," Cuomo continued. "I want to use that next year and bring that same kind of intensity to the other cities."

Given how much time, energy and words Cuomo has given to defending the Buffalo Billion Project and given his penchant for controlling everything that happens in his administration, it is curious that somehow Cuomo was unaware of the malfeasance that he now acknowledges via a statement that “The state has reason to believe that in certain circumstances and regulatory approvals they have been defrauded by improper rigging and failures to disclose potential conflicts of interests by lobbyists and former state employees."

How could Andrew Cuomo, the "control freak's control freak," the man who "skirts the line between management and mania" with a compulsion to control everything not know what was going on in his signature Buffalo Billion Project?

You can bet Andrew's spending the weekend in his darkened room trying to figure out a plausible way to answer that very question, because it is one that is not only being asked by Cuomo agnostics like Steve McLaughlin or bloggers like myself, but by federal investigators looking into the mess and hitting his office and others around him with subpoenas.

Alas for Andrew, the investigators looking into the scandal are less likely to buy his bullshit than the public at large so far when it comes to claims of ignorance over Buffalo Billion malfeasance and corruption.

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