ALBANY - Gov. Cuomo, who bragged his administration would attract the best and the brightest from across the country, is also elevating the biggest: His wealthy campaign donors.
A host of Cuomo appointments feature the governor's well-heeled financial backers. Of the 13 appointments now awaiting Senate confirmation, eight of the nominees and their spouses donated a combined $328,402.
That doesn't even include John Dyson, a former deputy mayor under Rudy Giuliani who was already confirmed as a new trustee of the state Power Authority.
Dyson and his wife handed over nearly $93,000 to Cuomo.
While it's not uncommon for governors to reward donors and cronies with plum appointments, Cuomo's nominations raised eyebrows given his vows to change the way Albany does business.
"It seems consistent with the past," said Assemblyman John McEneny (D-Albany).
And while most of the slots come without pay, watchdogs say they have one important benefit - influence.
Susan Lerner, head of Common Cause/New York, said, "The appearance of picking people who have provided you with donations is never the criteria we would recommend for appointments."
Many donors had one other thing in common - Cuomo never announced their nominations publicly, instead sending them up quietly for Senate consideration.
The big donors include:
- Howard Milstein, Cuomo's nominee to chair the state Thruway Authority, and his wife donated $100,000 to the governor's campaign.
- Former lieutenant governor candidate Dennis Mehiel, who made his fortune in the cardboard business, and his wife kicked in nearly $82,000. Mehiel was nominated to serve on the Empire State Development Corp.
- Steven Weiss, a Buffalo-area lawyer nominated to serve on the state Housing Finance Agency, forked over $25,000.
- Donald Capoccia, founder of the real estate development company BFC Partners, was appointed to the Battery Park City Authority. He dished $12,500 to Cuomo.
- RXR Realty boss Scott Rechler and Jeffrey Lynford, co-founder of the Wellsford real estate companies, were both nominated to serve as commissioners to the Port Authority. Rechler and his wife gave Cuomo more than $71,000. Lynford chipped in $6,375.
- Investor Beryl Snyder, nominated to the Dormitory Authority, handed over $18,500.
- Jonathan Sheffer, a conductor and composer nominated to serve on the state Council on the Arts, ponied up $13,000.
Cuomo's team said there should be no surprise that there is "overlap" between people who participate in campaigns and those who serve in government since "they are the same universe of individuals."
"The relevant question is are these qualified, accomplished people and our nominees are outstanding individuals who have brought renewed credibility to government," Cuomo spokesman Josh Vlasto said.
An examination of Cuomo's appointments and nominations since taking office in January show political connections stretch beyond just donations.
His inner circle is filled with people who worked for Cuomo - either in the attorney general's office or at the federal Housing and Urban Development department when he was Secretary under President Bill Clinton.
Others worked for his father, Mario Cuomo, a former three-term governor.
Then there are political cronies.
Kenneth Adams, already confirmed as boss of the Empire State Development Corp., is a former head of the state Business Council. The council last year for the first time in its history made an endorsement for governor, backing Cuomo.
Former Bronx borough president and longtime Democratic activist Fernando Ferrer is awaiting Senate confirmation to the MTA board.
In the end, Cuomo will be judged by whether his appointments did their jobs and advanced his goals, said Russell Haven, of the New York Public Interest Research Group.
"That said, we encourage looking for appointees outside the traditional political and business circles," Haven added.
Cuomo can sign all the "robust" ethics reform legislation into law that he wants.
The fact is, the wealthy and the crooked are still going to do business as usual in Albany and Cuomo himself is not only as crooked as the rest of them, he's also a hypocrite.
But this kind of stuff has a way of coming back to bite people.
Mark my words, Cuomo will leave Albany in disgrace or in handcuffs someday.
You can't point out all the crooks around you while being a crook yourself and not having that come back on you.