Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/crystal-peoples-stokes 2017-12-12T02:27:05+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com With Phase One Going on Trial, Cuomo’s Buffalo Investment Moves Ahead with Broken Reform Promises 2017-12-07T05:00:00+00:00 2017-12-07T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7353:with-phase-one-going-on-trial-cuomo-s-buffalo-investment-moves-ahead-with-changes-and-broken-reform-promises Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/24961518185_c3f1f27f83_z_1.jpg" alt="Cuomo jobs western new york" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo (photo: Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>As federal corruption trials loom for several associates of Governor Andrew Cuomo, the administration is forging ahead with Buffalo Billion II, the second phase in an ambitious plan to revitalize Buffalo’s beleaguered economy and help transform Upstate New York into a hub of technology innovation and jobs. The first phase saw the massive alleged bid-rigging and kickback scandal that rocked state politics when outlined in September 2016 by the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office and will loom over Cuomo’s 2018 reelection campaign.</p> <p>In April, the state Legislature approved $500 million in budgetary funds for the Buffalo Billion II, which marks a shift in the investment in Western New York. The initial Buffalo Billion program, touted by Cuomo as a major success in revitalizing that city despite the scandal, poured the bulk of the $1 billion in funds into a controversial solar panel factory, while Buffalo Billion II investments are diverse and largely infrastructural, including the development of waterfront and rail access, tourism, and job training initiatives.</p> <p>Critics -- including lawmakers, financial analysts and good government groups -- acknowledge steps the Cuomo administration has since taken to improve the contracting process, but say they remain skeptical of the Buffalo Billion extension and how it is administered. Calling its approval “a blank check” to the governor with little oversight, they question why these small projects are not being funded through traditional means -- like via local governments -- and whether these investments are tax dollars well-spent. Meanwhile, other promises the governor made in the wake of the scandal were abandoned by Cuomo, who had promised unilateral action that did not materialize.</p> <p>“There’s two problems here. One is the corruption problem, which is obviously paramount in the upcoming trials,” said David Friedfel, director of state affairs for Citizens Budget Commission, a nonpartisan watchdog. “But a second problem that we’ve voiced concern about, which is sort of getting lost in the conversation, is that a lot of these are a bad investment of state taxpayer dollars.”</p> <p>The Buffalo solar panel factory, which received about $750 million in state subsidies, as well as a state-funded nanotechnology hub in Syracuse, are at the center of last year’s sweeping probe by then-U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office, <a href="https://www.justice.gov/usao-sdny/pr/nine-defendants-including-joseph-percoco-former-executive-deputy-secretary-governor-and" target="_blank" rel="noopener">which ensnared nine men</a> -- including two who had been powerful state officials -- whose trials may overshadow the 2018 legislative session in Albany, set to begin in January.</p> <p>On January 8, jury selection is scheduled to start in the trial of Cuomo’s former close confidant and aide Joe Percoco, along with three&nbsp;construction and energy executives who had business before the state and are accused of arranging bribes for Percoco and his wife in exchange for Percoco’s government influence.</p> <p>On May 15, jury selection for the trial of former SUNY Polytechnic Institute President and CEO Alain Kaloyeros, whom Cuomo empowered and praised over several years as a key architect of his upstate economic development efforts, and executives from LP Ciminelli, a construction company tied to the factory and Cuomo’ campaign coffers, will commence.</p> <p>Two Syracuse developers, Steven Aiello and Joseph Gerardi, who run COR Development, will be defendants in both trials. Eight defendants in total have pleaded not guilty, while a ninth, lobbyist and former Cuomo ally Todd Howe, pleaded guilty to numerous felony charges and is cooperating with prosecutors. While Cuomo was not directly implicated in <a href="https://www.justice.gov/usao-sdny/pr/nine-defendants-including-joseph-percoco-former-executive-deputy-secretary-governor-and" target="_blank" rel="noopener">the federal complaint</a>, prosecutors note that he received large campaign donations from the business people involved in the scheme, often at Howe’s behest. The governor also oversaw the economic development programs that were allegedly taken advantage of and dismissed calls for greater independent contracting oversight, both before and after the scandal broke, though he did make some relatively minor adjustments.</p> <p>In November 2016, two months after the charges were outlined, Cuomo <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/statement-governor-andrew-m-cuomo-proposed-ethics-reforms" target="_blank" rel="noopener">expressed dismay</a> over the scandals that were threatening to undercut his signature economic development programs and vowed to quickly strengthen oversight and ethics, though all under his purview. Notably, Empire State Development, the state’s economic development authority, would immediately begin to oversee projects run by entities associated with SUNY Polytechnic, Fort Schuyler Management Corp. and Fuller Road Management Corp., state-affiliated nonprofits created to more quickly disburse economic development funding that Kaloyeros is accused of using to illegally direct contracts.</p> <p>“I believe this public trust and integrity issue must be addressed – directly and forthrightly. I don’t believe in denial as a life strategy. I believe you must face your problems, no matter how unpleasant, and do your best to resolve them,” Cuomo said in <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/statement-governor-andrew-m-cuomo-proposed-ethics-reforms" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a long statement</a> outlining his response to the scandal and news of problems at CUNY. “It is time for action, not words.”</p> <p>Cuomo promised a series of actions and proposals, some that would need legislative approval and others he categorized as “steps we can take immediately.” Most of those promised reforms did not materialize.</p> <p>In the November 2016 statement, Cuomo vowed, “I will order my campaign and my party not to accept campaign contributions from companies once a Request for Proposals has been announced, and for six months following the conclusion for the winner,” adding, “I believe the other state offices and the legislature should do the same and will propose such a law.” According to Cuomo’s office, his pledge was not followed through on.</p> <p>While his campaign did not follow through, in January of this year, Cuomo outlined <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-announces-35th-proposal-2017-state-state-restoring-integrity-and-accountability" target="_blank" rel="noopener">his ethics platform</a> and proposed creating such bans for all government leaders overseeing contracting processes. It did not pass.</p> <p>In November 2016, under other ‘immediate’ actions he would be taking, Cuomo acknowledged that “[t]he contracting systems at CUNY and SUNY have become the focus of US Attorney and IG inquiries in the past several months. To insure more permanent supervision, I will create and appoint separate Inspector Generals for both SUNY and CUNY.” These IGs were not created.</p> <p>Cuomo also said in November 2016, “I will also appoint a Chief Procurement Officer for the Executive branch. That person will be charged with reviewing all state contracts, with an eye towards eliminating any wrongdoing, conflicts of interest or collusion. And just so there is no confusion, I do mean all contracts.” The governor did not appoint such an officer.</p> <p>Instead of immediate action on these promises, they were turned into proposals in Cuomo’s 2017 agenda that did not pass in the April budget or June legislative agreements that followed. Asked about the lack of follow-through on the promises from November 2016, Cuomo’s office pointed to the Legislature. In the November 2016 statement Cuomo had classified the proposals among “actions I can take under my own authority."</p> <p>Enacted or not, critics say that these appointments would make no substitute for outside oversight.</p> <p>Two months later, during <a href="https://www.politico.com/states/f/?id=00000159-85af-d15a-afdf-dfbf04fe0000" target="_blank" rel="noopener">the Buffalo leg</a> of his six-stop 2017 State of the State tour, Cuomo made no mention of the scandals or his ethics platform, painting a rosy picture of his administration’s efforts to revitalize the city, and vowing to “double down” on the projects.</p> <p>“Buffalo Billion squared because it takes Buffalo Billion I and it takes Buffalo Billion II, and there’s a synergy between the two of them that will be exponential,” Cuomo said. “The principles of it are going to be to build on Western New York’s renaissance, which you’ve all accomplished already, help more small businesses in downtown areas and strategically invest in regional industries.”</p> <p>As the next phase of those efforts unfold with the backdrop of the corruption trials, the new Buffalo Billion does appear less vulnerable to bid-rigging, in part due to a series of voluntary fixes adopted by Cuomo’s administration, and also because of increased scrutiny from the press and government watchdogs.</p> <p>The shift of economic development projects from under SUNY-affiliated nonprofits to Empire State Development, which can be audited by the comptroller’s office, is a key step, and ESD, a public authority, has modified its own contracting protocols based on recommendations by state-contracted consultants from Guidepost Solutions. (Cuomo announced he was hiring Guidepost to do a review soon after the scandal broke.)</p> <p>Asked for comment about the steps the administration has taken to address the corruption scandal in the Buffalo Billion and which Cuomo promises has followed through on as Buffalo Billion II moves ahead, a spokesperson for Cuomo provided some background information but pointed Gotham Gazette to prior public statements by state officials.</p> <p>“We share your goal of preventing fraud, waste and abuse. ESD has taken substantive&nbsp;steps to strengthen applicable processes to address the concerns you have raised and to&nbsp;implement your recommendations, including our support of strengthened governance provided to non-profits associated with SUNY,” Zemsky of ESD wrote in a letter sent to Guidepost Solutions’ head Bart Schwartz in April.</p> <p>According to the governor's office, those Guidepost-suggested changes include reforms related to procurement, construction, property and equipment acquisition, and grant compliance. More specifically, there are new controls and procedures to improve payment processing and project management‎, with a focus on project timelines, billing, budgeting, documentation verification, payroll, and how RFPs and bids are evaluated.</p> <p>There has been little contract or spending activity related to Buffalo Billion II in 2017, according to records provided by the governor’s office, but a handful of relatively smaller projects <a href="http://www.buffalo.edu/news/ub-in-the-news/2017/11/002.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">have made it</a> past the planning stage. A new building for University at Buffalo Jacobs School of Medicine, is expected to be completed in December and will house an incoming class of students for the semester commencing January 2018. A welcome center on Grand Island, which is expected to become a vital component of New York's tourism industry, drawing in $100 billion and “supporting more than 900,000 jobs,” is expected to be fully constructed and in use by August 2018, <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-announces-western-new-york-highlights-fy-2018-state-budget" target="_blank" rel="noopener">according to Cuomo’s office</a>.</p> <p>Government watchdogs and reformers commend the government’s efforts to create more accountability for these projects but say they are no replacement for long-term, independent oversight.</p> <p>The watchdogs call for a “database of deals,” which would digitally compile every entity receiving funds from the state along with where each dollar is going; dramatic overhaul of the campaign finance system to eliminate the appearance or reality of pay-to-play; and a bill to restore the powers of the state comptroller to review procurement contracts for SUNY, CUNY, and Office of General Services before they are approved. That power was stripped by Cuomo and the Legislature in 2011, in part to expedite the flow of economic development funds aimed at upstate revitalization, a move that was criticized intensely when the corruption revelations came to light.</p> <p>"As with all of the economic development programs subject to our review, we are closely looking at payment requests,” said Jennifer Freeman, a spokesperson for DiNapoli's office in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “The problem is not all contracts and payments are subject to our review, which is why State Comptroller DiNapoli is pushing for major procurement reforms to improve oversight."</p> <p>These long-sought reforms appeared to have some momentum in the 2017 legislative session, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6875-ramped-up-economic-development-funding-less-transparency-in-new-state-budget" target="_blank" rel="noopener">but wound up going nowhere</a> due to pushback from Cuomo, even as more economic development money was approved.</p> <p>There is less pushback against Buffalo Billion II, in part because the state projects involved are less controversial and more diverse than those announced in 2012. At that time, many questioned the state’s decision to spend $750 million on the SolarCity manufacturing plant that made a splash when it was <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/tesla-and-solarcity-agree-to-2-6-billion-merger-deal-1470050724" target="_blank" rel="noopener">purchased</a> by Tesla’s Elon Musk, but has failed to the deliver the promised jobs. However, those watching Albany, and Buffalo, say questions remain about why the state is overseeing projects typically done by a local development authority or industrial development authority.</p> <p>“In Buffalo, you have the state economic development corporation calling the shots on dinky expenditures on small real estate and street improvement projects,” said John Kaehny, executive director of ReInvent Albany, a watchdog group that has focused on economic development spending, especially upstate. “Is Buffalo Billion II a good investment compared to traditional government spending on clean water, road repair and public transit?”</p> <p>Kaehny added that it is still preferable that the government make many small bets on small businesses, which is the emphasis of Buffalo Billion II, rather than “rolling the dice on giant, high risk, corporate handouts like Buffalo Billion I did with Tesla, Riverbend.”<br /><br />Cuomo, a Democrat who has said he’s seeking a third term in 2018 and appears to be considering a run for president in 2020, may see Buffalo as an opportunity to shape his national image as a leader who successfully resuscitated one of America’s largest, long-suffering post-industrial cities -- succeeding where many others have failed. Though that narrative is likely to be complicated by the corruption scandal, with more to be determined by the trials set to begin in 2018.</p> <p>The governor has called his work in Buffalo successful, pointing to a declining unemployment rate in the formerly industrial city, <a href="https://www.bizjournals.com/buffalo/news/2016/07/26/buffalo-unemployment-rate-drops-to-15-year-low.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a rate</a> that dropped from 7.9 percent in October 2010 to a 15-year-low of 4.9 by October 2016, and there is a chorus of voices backing him up. But Western New York’s job growth continues to lag behind the national average.</p> <p>Part of the boom is related to an increase in construction jobs. For the five-year period ending in 2015, the number of construction jobs in the Buffalo-Niagara Falls Metro Area rose by 10.1 percent, an all-time record, according to Cuomo’s office, and by 9.3 percent in Erie County. The state investment has generated buzz and created an air of optimism and excitement for both Buffalonians and outsiders, including companies that have eyed the state’s second largest city. The city has recently seen investments from General Motors, Geico, Goldman Sachs, General Mills, Sumitomo Rubber, and Moog and Entrepreneur Magazine recently ranked Buffalo second in the nation for start-up communities, according to the governor’s office.</p> <p>The governor and his aides also say young people are flocking back to Buffalo: the number of young adults ages 20 to 34 in the Buffalo-Niagara region <a href="https://www.bizjournals.com/buffalo/news/2015/12/17/yes-buffalos-population-of-young-adults-is-on-the.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">has increased</a> by 8.3 percent since 2010.</p> <p>Still, lawmakers whose districts should benefit from the funds have critiques of both phases of the program. Assembly Member Raymond Walter, a Republican from Amherst, has been a vocal critic of the Legislature’s approval of the Buffalo Billion II and has joined calls for reforms in the wake of the the 2016 scandal. While acknowledging that Western New York has been infused with optimism and entrepreneurship, Walter says he attributes some of the economic prosperity to initiatives that predate Cuomo.</p> <p>“My biggest concerns are, from what I've seen, is an inability to actually provide any data that shows that the programs are working,” he said of the initial Buffalo Billion program, noting that SolarCity was initially intended to house many types of industries before it became a solar panel factory. add</p> <p>“The idea all along was we don't want a silver bullet, there's not a silver bullet solution to the economic woes of Western New York. We can't just have one big project, but that's exactly what this is turned into,” said Walter, who got in a heated back and forth with ESD head Howard Zemsky <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7321-assembly-takes-stock-of-state-economic-development-programs-ahead-of-next-negotiations" target="_blank" rel="noopener">last month at an Assembly hearing</a> on the progress of Buffalo Billion and other economic development programs.</p> <p>The governor’s office <a href="https://buffalobillion.ny.gov/about-buffalo-billion" target="_blank" rel="noopener">says</a> it is creating a “comprehensive and diverse portfolio of investments that collectively is driving the future of Buffalo’s continuing economic recovery.”</p> <p>But while Buffalo Billion II may provide more tangible investments into the area, Walter questioned why the funds were not lined out by project in the 2017 budget, and criticized the opaque process through which it was passed.</p> <p>“We're giving a blank check to the governor, to the Empire State Development, to whoever is going to be administering these funds,” he said. “So yeah, I still have great concern because we've given up all legislative authority over how this money is going to be spent.”</p> <p>Others, like Democratic Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes, of Buffalo, says she and her constituents welcome the investment from the state. While she recognizes concerns, Peoples-Stokes said she has witnessed a dramatic change in the long-struggling city in terms of opportunity, entrepreneurship, and investment from major companies, as well as college students choosing to remain in Buffalo’s downtown after graduation.</p> <p>“For me, at the end of the day, to see economic development dollars have a meaningful impact in the core of our city, I’m satisfied with that,” she said. “Because for years, literally years -- this is not my first go around, I’ve been here for 15 years -- I’ve never seen the type of resources put into Buffalo as we’ve seen under Governor Cuomo.”</p> <p>

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Correction: An earlier version of this story mistated the trial date of the LP Ciminelli executives.</p> <p>Note: this story has been updated with more information on the reforms adopted from the Guidepost recommendations.</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/24961518185_c3f1f27f83_z_1.jpg" alt="Cuomo jobs western new york" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo (photo: Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>As federal corruption trials loom for several associates of Governor Andrew Cuomo, the administration is forging ahead with Buffalo Billion II, the second phase in an ambitious plan to revitalize Buffalo’s beleaguered economy and help transform Upstate New York into a hub of technology innovation and jobs. The first phase saw the massive alleged bid-rigging and kickback scandal that rocked state politics when outlined in September 2016 by the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office and will loom over Cuomo’s 2018 reelection campaign.</p> <p>In April, the state Legislature approved $500 million in budgetary funds for the Buffalo Billion II, which marks a shift in the investment in Western New York. The initial Buffalo Billion program, touted by Cuomo as a major success in revitalizing that city despite the scandal, poured the bulk of the $1 billion in funds into a controversial solar panel factory, while Buffalo Billion II investments are diverse and largely infrastructural, including the development of waterfront and rail access, tourism, and job training initiatives.</p> <p>Critics -- including lawmakers, financial analysts and good government groups -- acknowledge steps the Cuomo administration has since taken to improve the contracting process, but say they remain skeptical of the Buffalo Billion extension and how it is administered. Calling its approval “a blank check” to the governor with little oversight, they question why these small projects are not being funded through traditional means -- like via local governments -- and whether these investments are tax dollars well-spent. Meanwhile, other promises the governor made in the wake of the scandal were abandoned by Cuomo, who had promised unilateral action that did not materialize.</p> <p>“There’s two problems here. One is the corruption problem, which is obviously paramount in the upcoming trials,” said David Friedfel, director of state affairs for Citizens Budget Commission, a nonpartisan watchdog. “But a second problem that we’ve voiced concern about, which is sort of getting lost in the conversation, is that a lot of these are a bad investment of state taxpayer dollars.”</p> <p>The Buffalo solar panel factory, which received about $750 million in state subsidies, as well as a state-funded nanotechnology hub in Syracuse, are at the center of last year’s sweeping probe by then-U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office, <a href="https://www.justice.gov/usao-sdny/pr/nine-defendants-including-joseph-percoco-former-executive-deputy-secretary-governor-and" target="_blank" rel="noopener">which ensnared nine men</a> -- including two who had been powerful state officials -- whose trials may overshadow the 2018 legislative session in Albany, set to begin in January.</p> <p>On January 8, jury selection is scheduled to start in the trial of Cuomo’s former close confidant and aide Joe Percoco, along with three&nbsp;construction and energy executives who had business before the state and are accused of arranging bribes for Percoco and his wife in exchange for Percoco’s government influence.</p> <p>On May 15, jury selection for the trial of former SUNY Polytechnic Institute President and CEO Alain Kaloyeros, whom Cuomo empowered and praised over several years as a key architect of his upstate economic development efforts, and executives from LP Ciminelli, a construction company tied to the factory and Cuomo’ campaign coffers, will commence.</p> <p>Two Syracuse developers, Steven Aiello and Joseph Gerardi, who run COR Development, will be defendants in both trials. Eight defendants in total have pleaded not guilty, while a ninth, lobbyist and former Cuomo ally Todd Howe, pleaded guilty to numerous felony charges and is cooperating with prosecutors. While Cuomo was not directly implicated in <a href="https://www.justice.gov/usao-sdny/pr/nine-defendants-including-joseph-percoco-former-executive-deputy-secretary-governor-and" target="_blank" rel="noopener">the federal complaint</a>, prosecutors note that he received large campaign donations from the business people involved in the scheme, often at Howe’s behest. The governor also oversaw the economic development programs that were allegedly taken advantage of and dismissed calls for greater independent contracting oversight, both before and after the scandal broke, though he did make some relatively minor adjustments.</p> <p>In November 2016, two months after the charges were outlined, Cuomo <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/statement-governor-andrew-m-cuomo-proposed-ethics-reforms" target="_blank" rel="noopener">expressed dismay</a> over the scandals that were threatening to undercut his signature economic development programs and vowed to quickly strengthen oversight and ethics, though all under his purview. Notably, Empire State Development, the state’s economic development authority, would immediately begin to oversee projects run by entities associated with SUNY Polytechnic, Fort Schuyler Management Corp. and Fuller Road Management Corp., state-affiliated nonprofits created to more quickly disburse economic development funding that Kaloyeros is accused of using to illegally direct contracts.</p> <p>“I believe this public trust and integrity issue must be addressed – directly and forthrightly. I don’t believe in denial as a life strategy. I believe you must face your problems, no matter how unpleasant, and do your best to resolve them,” Cuomo said in <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/statement-governor-andrew-m-cuomo-proposed-ethics-reforms" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a long statement</a> outlining his response to the scandal and news of problems at CUNY. “It is time for action, not words.”</p> <p>Cuomo promised a series of actions and proposals, some that would need legislative approval and others he categorized as “steps we can take immediately.” Most of those promised reforms did not materialize.</p> <p>In the November 2016 statement, Cuomo vowed, “I will order my campaign and my party not to accept campaign contributions from companies once a Request for Proposals has been announced, and for six months following the conclusion for the winner,” adding, “I believe the other state offices and the legislature should do the same and will propose such a law.” According to Cuomo’s office, his pledge was not followed through on.</p> <p>While his campaign did not follow through, in January of this year, Cuomo outlined <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-announces-35th-proposal-2017-state-state-restoring-integrity-and-accountability" target="_blank" rel="noopener">his ethics platform</a> and proposed creating such bans for all government leaders overseeing contracting processes. It did not pass.</p> <p>In November 2016, under other ‘immediate’ actions he would be taking, Cuomo acknowledged that “[t]he contracting systems at CUNY and SUNY have become the focus of US Attorney and IG inquiries in the past several months. To insure more permanent supervision, I will create and appoint separate Inspector Generals for both SUNY and CUNY.” These IGs were not created.</p> <p>Cuomo also said in November 2016, “I will also appoint a Chief Procurement Officer for the Executive branch. That person will be charged with reviewing all state contracts, with an eye towards eliminating any wrongdoing, conflicts of interest or collusion. And just so there is no confusion, I do mean all contracts.” The governor did not appoint such an officer.</p> <p>Instead of immediate action on these promises, they were turned into proposals in Cuomo’s 2017 agenda that did not pass in the April budget or June legislative agreements that followed. Asked about the lack of follow-through on the promises from November 2016, Cuomo’s office pointed to the Legislature. In the November 2016 statement Cuomo had classified the proposals among “actions I can take under my own authority."</p> <p>Enacted or not, critics say that these appointments would make no substitute for outside oversight.</p> <p>Two months later, during <a href="https://www.politico.com/states/f/?id=00000159-85af-d15a-afdf-dfbf04fe0000" target="_blank" rel="noopener">the Buffalo leg</a> of his six-stop 2017 State of the State tour, Cuomo made no mention of the scandals or his ethics platform, painting a rosy picture of his administration’s efforts to revitalize the city, and vowing to “double down” on the projects.</p> <p>“Buffalo Billion squared because it takes Buffalo Billion I and it takes Buffalo Billion II, and there’s a synergy between the two of them that will be exponential,” Cuomo said. “The principles of it are going to be to build on Western New York’s renaissance, which you’ve all accomplished already, help more small businesses in downtown areas and strategically invest in regional industries.”</p> <p>As the next phase of those efforts unfold with the backdrop of the corruption trials, the new Buffalo Billion does appear less vulnerable to bid-rigging, in part due to a series of voluntary fixes adopted by Cuomo’s administration, and also because of increased scrutiny from the press and government watchdogs.</p> <p>The shift of economic development projects from under SUNY-affiliated nonprofits to Empire State Development, which can be audited by the comptroller’s office, is a key step, and ESD, a public authority, has modified its own contracting protocols based on recommendations by state-contracted consultants from Guidepost Solutions. (Cuomo announced he was hiring Guidepost to do a review soon after the scandal broke.)</p> <p>Asked for comment about the steps the administration has taken to address the corruption scandal in the Buffalo Billion and which Cuomo promises has followed through on as Buffalo Billion II moves ahead, a spokesperson for Cuomo provided some background information but pointed Gotham Gazette to prior public statements by state officials.</p> <p>“We share your goal of preventing fraud, waste and abuse. ESD has taken substantive&nbsp;steps to strengthen applicable processes to address the concerns you have raised and to&nbsp;implement your recommendations, including our support of strengthened governance provided to non-profits associated with SUNY,” Zemsky of ESD wrote in a letter sent to Guidepost Solutions’ head Bart Schwartz in April.</p> <p>According to the governor's office, those Guidepost-suggested changes include reforms related to procurement, construction, property and equipment acquisition, and grant compliance. More specifically, there are new controls and procedures to improve payment processing and project management‎, with a focus on project timelines, billing, budgeting, documentation verification, payroll, and how RFPs and bids are evaluated.</p> <p>There has been little contract or spending activity related to Buffalo Billion II in 2017, according to records provided by the governor’s office, but a handful of relatively smaller projects <a href="http://www.buffalo.edu/news/ub-in-the-news/2017/11/002.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">have made it</a> past the planning stage. A new building for University at Buffalo Jacobs School of Medicine, is expected to be completed in December and will house an incoming class of students for the semester commencing January 2018. A welcome center on Grand Island, which is expected to become a vital component of New York's tourism industry, drawing in $100 billion and “supporting more than 900,000 jobs,” is expected to be fully constructed and in use by August 2018, <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-announces-western-new-york-highlights-fy-2018-state-budget" target="_blank" rel="noopener">according to Cuomo’s office</a>.</p> <p>Government watchdogs and reformers commend the government’s efforts to create more accountability for these projects but say they are no replacement for long-term, independent oversight.</p> <p>The watchdogs call for a “database of deals,” which would digitally compile every entity receiving funds from the state along with where each dollar is going; dramatic overhaul of the campaign finance system to eliminate the appearance or reality of pay-to-play; and a bill to restore the powers of the state comptroller to review procurement contracts for SUNY, CUNY, and Office of General Services before they are approved. That power was stripped by Cuomo and the Legislature in 2011, in part to expedite the flow of economic development funds aimed at upstate revitalization, a move that was criticized intensely when the corruption revelations came to light.</p> <p>"As with all of the economic development programs subject to our review, we are closely looking at payment requests,” said Jennifer Freeman, a spokesperson for DiNapoli's office in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “The problem is not all contracts and payments are subject to our review, which is why State Comptroller DiNapoli is pushing for major procurement reforms to improve oversight."</p> <p>These long-sought reforms appeared to have some momentum in the 2017 legislative session, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6875-ramped-up-economic-development-funding-less-transparency-in-new-state-budget" target="_blank" rel="noopener">but wound up going nowhere</a> due to pushback from Cuomo, even as more economic development money was approved.</p> <p>There is less pushback against Buffalo Billion II, in part because the state projects involved are less controversial and more diverse than those announced in 2012. At that time, many questioned the state’s decision to spend $750 million on the SolarCity manufacturing plant that made a splash when it was <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/tesla-and-solarcity-agree-to-2-6-billion-merger-deal-1470050724" target="_blank" rel="noopener">purchased</a> by Tesla’s Elon Musk, but has failed to the deliver the promised jobs. However, those watching Albany, and Buffalo, say questions remain about why the state is overseeing projects typically done by a local development authority or industrial development authority.</p> <p>“In Buffalo, you have the state economic development corporation calling the shots on dinky expenditures on small real estate and street improvement projects,” said John Kaehny, executive director of ReInvent Albany, a watchdog group that has focused on economic development spending, especially upstate. “Is Buffalo Billion II a good investment compared to traditional government spending on clean water, road repair and public transit?”</p> <p>Kaehny added that it is still preferable that the government make many small bets on small businesses, which is the emphasis of Buffalo Billion II, rather than “rolling the dice on giant, high risk, corporate handouts like Buffalo Billion I did with Tesla, Riverbend.”<br /><br />Cuomo, a Democrat who has said he’s seeking a third term in 2018 and appears to be considering a run for president in 2020, may see Buffalo as an opportunity to shape his national image as a leader who successfully resuscitated one of America’s largest, long-suffering post-industrial cities -- succeeding where many others have failed. Though that narrative is likely to be complicated by the corruption scandal, with more to be determined by the trials set to begin in 2018.</p> <p>The governor has called his work in Buffalo successful, pointing to a declining unemployment rate in the formerly industrial city, <a href="https://www.bizjournals.com/buffalo/news/2016/07/26/buffalo-unemployment-rate-drops-to-15-year-low.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a rate</a> that dropped from 7.9 percent in October 2010 to a 15-year-low of 4.9 by October 2016, and there is a chorus of voices backing him up. But Western New York’s job growth continues to lag behind the national average.</p> <p>Part of the boom is related to an increase in construction jobs. For the five-year period ending in 2015, the number of construction jobs in the Buffalo-Niagara Falls Metro Area rose by 10.1 percent, an all-time record, according to Cuomo’s office, and by 9.3 percent in Erie County. The state investment has generated buzz and created an air of optimism and excitement for both Buffalonians and outsiders, including companies that have eyed the state’s second largest city. The city has recently seen investments from General Motors, Geico, Goldman Sachs, General Mills, Sumitomo Rubber, and Moog and Entrepreneur Magazine recently ranked Buffalo second in the nation for start-up communities, according to the governor’s office.</p> <p>The governor and his aides also say young people are flocking back to Buffalo: the number of young adults ages 20 to 34 in the Buffalo-Niagara region <a href="https://www.bizjournals.com/buffalo/news/2015/12/17/yes-buffalos-population-of-young-adults-is-on-the.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">has increased</a> by 8.3 percent since 2010.</p> <p>Still, lawmakers whose districts should benefit from the funds have critiques of both phases of the program. Assembly Member Raymond Walter, a Republican from Amherst, has been a vocal critic of the Legislature’s approval of the Buffalo Billion II and has joined calls for reforms in the wake of the the 2016 scandal. While acknowledging that Western New York has been infused with optimism and entrepreneurship, Walter says he attributes some of the economic prosperity to initiatives that predate Cuomo.</p> <p>“My biggest concerns are, from what I've seen, is an inability to actually provide any data that shows that the programs are working,” he said of the initial Buffalo Billion program, noting that SolarCity was initially intended to house many types of industries before it became a solar panel factory. add</p> <p>“The idea all along was we don't want a silver bullet, there's not a silver bullet solution to the economic woes of Western New York. We can't just have one big project, but that's exactly what this is turned into,” said Walter, who got in a heated back and forth with ESD head Howard Zemsky <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7321-assembly-takes-stock-of-state-economic-development-programs-ahead-of-next-negotiations" target="_blank" rel="noopener">last month at an Assembly hearing</a> on the progress of Buffalo Billion and other economic development programs.</p> <p>The governor’s office <a href="https://buffalobillion.ny.gov/about-buffalo-billion" target="_blank" rel="noopener">says</a> it is creating a “comprehensive and diverse portfolio of investments that collectively is driving the future of Buffalo’s continuing economic recovery.”</p> <p>But while Buffalo Billion II may provide more tangible investments into the area, Walter questioned why the funds were not lined out by project in the 2017 budget, and criticized the opaque process through which it was passed.</p> <p>“We're giving a blank check to the governor, to the Empire State Development, to whoever is going to be administering these funds,” he said. “So yeah, I still have great concern because we've given up all legislative authority over how this money is going to be spent.”</p> <p>Others, like Democratic Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes, of Buffalo, says she and her constituents welcome the investment from the state. While she recognizes concerns, Peoples-Stokes said she has witnessed a dramatic change in the long-struggling city in terms of opportunity, entrepreneurship, and investment from major companies, as well as college students choosing to remain in Buffalo’s downtown after graduation.</p> <p>“For me, at the end of the day, to see economic development dollars have a meaningful impact in the core of our city, I’m satisfied with that,” she said. “Because for years, literally years -- this is not my first go around, I’ve been here for 15 years -- I’ve never seen the type of resources put into Buffalo as we’ve seen under Governor Cuomo.”</p> <p>

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Correction: An earlier version of this story mistated the trial date of the LP Ciminelli executives.</p> <p>Note: this story has been updated with more information on the reforms adopted from the Guidepost recommendations.</p>
Amid Larger Moment, Will Albany Face Another Sexual Misconduct Reckoning? 2017-10-31T04:00:00+00:00 2017-10-31T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7286:amid-larger-moment-will-albany-face-another-sexual-misconduct-reckoning Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/7030332993_98be0d5262_z_1.jpg" alt="Cuomo Sheldon Silver Skelos Albany" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo, Sheldon Silver &amp; Dean Skelos in 2012 (photo via The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>As allegations of sexual harassment and assault against disgraced movie producer and major Democratic political donor Harvey Weinstein piled up earlier this month, women around the world took to social media to share stories of abusive behavior using the hashtag <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/MeToo?src=hash" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">#MeToo</a>.</p> <p>The light being shone on the predatory behavior of Weinstein and many others resonated at statehouses across the United States, from California to Rhode Island, where women in politics have been speaking out about sexual misconduct they experienced first-hand or witnessed, with victims including legislators, young staffers and interns, lobbyists, and others.</p> <p>In New York’s capital, the response has been more muted, in part because the Legislature is not currently in session, but also because Albany was recently forced to face its own mishandling of sexual misconduct scandals. As recently as 2014, the aftermath of a debacle around sexual harassment by Assemblymember Vito Lopez, which led to his forced resignation from the Assembly, produced a number of significant reforms to how harassment, misconduct, and discriminatory behavior are addressed in the state Assembly.</p> <p>Now, three years later and amid a national reckoning with issues related to sexual misconduct, women in state government who spoke to Gotham Gazette noted an&nbsp; improvement in the Albany culture since these reforms, but say that sexist attitudes and behavior continue to plague New York state government.</p> <p>While several female legislators were hesitant to speak on the record about their own experiences with sexual harassment, Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa spoke frankly about her own experiences with sexism in the political sphere at a recent forum organized by Berkeley College in Manhattan. She described one incident, a decade ago, when on a conference call, it was announced that she would take the lead on a project. A man on the line, who is now a national leader in progressive politics, according to DeRosa, joked, “She can take the lead right up to my hotel room,” apparently unaware that DeRosa was on the line.</p> <p>“These instances have stuck with me, but I'm not kidding myself and neither should you — many women have and still do experience far worse every day, and it's not just actresses you're reading about in the news this week,” she said, according to <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/transcript-secretary-governor-melissa-derosa-delivers-keynote-address-women-media-courage-own" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a transcript</a> distributed by the governor’s office.</p> <p>Calling for “societal course correction,” DeRosa encouraged young women in all industries to speak out.</p> <p>The statement was a powerful one coming from DeRosa, who at 34 became the youngest person and first woman to be named Secretary to the Governor, the top aide to the state’s most powerful government official, when she was appointed to the post by Governor Andrew Cuomo. Days after DeRosa’s remarks, a former top official in Cuomo’s administration came forward with allegations that her former boss sexually harassed staffers, saying she was inspired by DeRosa’s remarks, <a href="http://nypost.com/2017/10/23/top-cuomo-official-claims-former-boss-sexually-harassed-employees/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">according to The New York Post</a>.</p> <p>Patricia Gunning, who had recently resigned as the special prosecutor/inspector general of the Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs, told The Post that she faced retaliatory violence for calling out her boss for his behavior.</p> <p>“My hope is that this conversation will be the beginning of a new era in [how] these issues are addressed by employers,” Gunning told The Post.</p> <p>On Monday, <a href="http://buffalonews.com/2017/10/30/cuomo-ally-sam-hoyt-leaves-state-post-for-private-sector/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">it was revealed</a> that&nbsp;<span style="font-weight: 400;">Sam Hoyt, a former assemblyman and Cuomo ally who ran Buffalo area projects for the state's Empire State Development Corporation, had abruptly resigned to take a job in the private sector. By Tuesday afternoon, Hoyt, who was disciplined by the Assembly<span style="font-weight: 400;">&nbsp;in 2009 for an affair with 19-year-old intern, <a href="http://buffalonews.com/2017/10/31/state-employee-says-hoyt-paid-her-50000-to-conceal-relationship/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">was accused</a> by a former state employee of pressuring her into a romantic relationship. She told Buffalo News that she was paid $50,000 for her silence.</span> </span></p> <p><span>In <a href="https://twitter.com/NickReisman/status/925443753200021505" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a statement</a>,&nbsp;<span>Cuomo spokesperson Dani Lever acknowledged that allegations of misconduct had emerged against Hoyt and that an investigation was underway.</span></span></p> <p>"All state employees must act with integrity and respect," the statement read. "When the complainant made these allegations, they were immediately refered to the&nbsp; <span style="font-weight: 400;">Governor's Office of Employee Relations (GOER)&nbsp;</span>for an investigation."</p> <p>After GOER determined there were grounds for further review, the matter was refered to the Inspector General's Office, and later, the&nbsp;<span style="font-weight: 400;">Joint Commission of Public Ethics (JCOPE), according to the statement. Hoyt maintains that the relationship was consentual, according to Buffalo News.</span></p> <p>But while to this point there has not been a new public outcry at the New York Legislature, female lawmakers say that the Weinstein scandal and its fallout have struck a chord and sparked private conversations about their early experiences in Albany and how they can best aid young female staff aides and legislators.</p> <p>One such conversation occurred at <a href="http://nyassembly.gov/comm/?id=85" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a retreat</a> for the Women’s Legislative Caucus in Saratoga two weeks ago, where women shared uncomfortable incidents they had experienced early in their careers and discussed how they could better unify when scandals occur, according to Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a Buffalo area lawmaker who chairs the Women’s Caucus. One thing agreed upon, Peoples-Stokes said, was that the Assembly’s sexual harassment enforcement could be enhanced by a mentorship program for incoming members and their aides.</p> <p>“We wanted to see if there is anything we can do in addition to ensure that we never need to have these experiences again,” said Peoples-Stokes. “It is something that we decided we are going to do as women of the Legislature, and you know, when women decide to do something, we get it done.”</p> <p>While the Assembly reforms appear to have improved the culture in the 150-seat chamber, Albany’s sexual harassment problem has not disappeared. The Senate and the Assembly <a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2016/11/legislature-spends-271k-on-sexual-harassment-cases/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">have spent</a> hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past two years on outside counsel to investigate sexual harassment complaints. The Assembly’s ethics committee -- which exists solely to enforce policy on sexual harassment, discrimination, and retaliation -- <a href="https://twitter.com/RachelSilby/status/917812909106978816" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">convened a meeting</a> in executive session on October 12 and is expected to meet again on November 2. The matter at hand is not clear.<br /> <br />Currently reported to be under investigation by JCOPE and the Erie County District Attorney’s office is Senator Marc Panepinto, a Democrat from Buffalo, who announced he would not seek reelection last year <a href="http://nypost.com/2016/03/17/state-senator-faces-ethics-probe-amid-lurid-sexual-harassment-allegations/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">amid rumors</a> of sexual harassment. Also last year, the Senate paid out $121,000 for two contracts with Kraus &amp; Zuchlewski LLP “for legal counsel related to U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission matters and investigation of sexual harassment claims.”</p> <p>Assembly members who spoke with Gotham Gazette acknowledged the body’s embarrassing history of dismissing sexual misconduct claims internally, which has led to a slew of unflattering headlines in 2012 and 2013, but noted that <span style="font-weight: 400;">an influx of female legislators to the Assembly in recent years has also helped to reshape the culture</span>. At the Senate, such scandals and its culture of protecting those in power has not drawn the same scrutiny.</p> <p>Last week, New York’s chapter of the National Organization of Women (NOW) made an effort to further jumpstart the conversation, calling on women and men who currently or previously work(ed) in government in Albany and throughout the state to speak out about their personal experiences with sexual harassment or assault while on the job, citing the Legislature’s history of quashing sexual harassment complaints.<br /> <br />“Government sets the standard and the policies and the laws that all other industries are asked to uphold,” said Sonia Ossorio, president of the National Organization for Women - New York, said in a statement. “Given that Albany is a place where lawmakers have abused their power and sexual harassment has gone unchecked in the past, we felt it was important to give women in politics a platform to speak up.”</p> <p>The women’s advocacy organization has <a href="http://nownys.org/whistleblower-hotline-for-sexual-harassment-in-government/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">announced</a> the creation of a new, dedicated hotline for individuals in government to report their experiences (people can call 518-362-7857 or submit a story online at <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/nownys.org" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">nownys.org</a>).</p> <p>In an interview with Gotham Gazette, Ossorio said the goal is to build on the momentum of the #MeToo movement. The hotline will provide independent counsel and resources to victims while also assessing how effective recent policies have been, she said.</p> <p>“We immediately thought about the culture that has existed in Albany and we wanted to be able to empower women who work in politics, particularly young women and interns who head to their internships idealistic and wanting to be part of American government and are disillusioned by it,” she said. “We really want to know to what degree the environment of sexual harassment has been uprooted.”</p> <p>The personal stories tumbling out of statehouses around the nation are eerily familiar to anyone who has closely watched New York state government in recent years. In California, women leaders in government have formed a campaign called “We Said Enough,” sharing stories about how they have endured groping, inappropriate comments about their bodies and abilities, and insults and jokes that diminish them professionally. In some cases, “men have made promises, or threats, about our jobs in exchange for our compliance, or our silence. They have leveraged their power and positions to treat us however they would like,” wrote the group <a href="https://www.wesaidenough.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">on a website</a> created for women to submit their stories.</p> <p>An open letter circulated by members of the Illinois Legislature drew a direct comparison between the Weinstein scandal and the coercive situations in which women in government find themselves and had drawn 130 signatures by Tuesday afternoon, <a href="https://t.co/zZUEBcBYR7" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the AP reported</a>.</p> <p>"Every industry has its own version of the casting couch," reads the letter. "Ask any woman who has lobbied the halls of the Capitol, staffed Council Chambers, or slogged through brutal hours on the campaign trail. Misogyny is alive and well in this industry."</p> <p>Albany, which has historically been referred to as the New York’s own “sin city,” is <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2004/05/16/nyregion/albany-faces-its-sex-problem-and-nobody-s-snickering.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">no stranger to such scandals</a>. Repeatedly, a series of particularly egregious complaints of sexual harassment or rape has led the Legislature to a watershed moment of sorts, producing much-needed reform in how accusers are treated and how their complaints are handled.</p> <p>A major turning point for the Assembly occurred <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2004/05/16/nyregion/albany-faces-its-sex-problem-and-nobody-s-snickering.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in 2004</a>, when, roiling from a series of rape accusations against Assemblymember Adam Clayton Powell IV and Michael Boxley, chief counsel to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, its leadership decided to bar members of the Legislature from fraternizing with interns.</p> <p>In the state Senate, a somewhat similar soul-searching happened, but at the time many of its members were strongly opposed to the idea of an intern-fraternization ban.</p> <p>In comparison to the 150-seat Assembly, sex scandals in the 63-seat Senate have unfolded more discreetly -- hinted at through <a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2016/11/legislature-spends-271k-on-sexual-harassment-cases/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">money spent on lawyers</a> or a senator or a top aide <a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2017/09/flanagan-hires/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">leaving the job</a> abruptly amid rumors -- and as a result the body’s leadership has not been forced to publicly reckon with its record in the same way, according to Senator Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat who was instrumental in compelling the Senate to implement a mandatory sexual harassment training program.</p> <p>A decade ago, Krueger said she was privy to two incidents involving interns who were molested by older male senators. One incident occurred in a packed elevator and Krueger famously threatened to kick the senator if he touched an intern again. The other time she learned of a sexual assault claim when she found a young staffer crying outside a senator’s office at the Capitol.</p> <p>After the second incident, Krueger, who is known for her bluntness on the topic, said she urged then-Senate Leader Joe Bruno, a Republican from the Capital Region, to create mandatory sexual harassment training for all senators. When she threatened to hold a press conference naming and shaming the offending senators, Bruno, who later stepped down from the leadership role amid his own public corruption scandal, responded he would hold a competing press conference naming Democratic senators.</p> <p>The way Krueger tells it, she said, “I didn't tell you [what] party this senator is in. I don't give a damn what party they are. We can do a joint press conference, and we all can name names. I don't give a [expletive].” To which Bruno responded, “OK, OK, we'll do mandatory sexual harassment training,” Krueger <a href="http://www.timesunion.com/womenatwork/article/Liz-Krueger-Q-A-on-women-in-politics-9186948.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">told The Albany Times Union</a>.</p> <p>The training became mandatory for senators and staff members and the regulations were clearly stated in a written document.</p> <p>It was not the last time Kreuger took her colleagues in the Legislature <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/government/4246-a-culture-of-sexual-harassment-in-albany" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">to task</a> over crimes against women. In June 2003, when Boxley was <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2003/06/12/nyregion/aide-to-silver-is-arrested-in-rape-case.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">led out of the Capitol in handcuffs</a>, having been accused of rape for the second time, Krueger said she had a very public confrontation with Assemblymember Lopez, who a decade later would be toppled by his own slew of sexual harassment scandals. They were scheduled, coincidentally, to hold a joint press conference in front of the Legislative Correspondents Association office. According to Krueger, the Assembly member fumed, “How dare they come over here and arrest our counsel in our house?”</p> <p>“I said ‘excuse me, he was tried with rape,’ pause, ‘for the second time,’ pause,” Krueger recalled to Gotham Gazette, “‘It seems to me that if you have anything to say publicly about this, it's let justice be fair and swift. Otherwise, I think you should keep your mouth shut.'”</p> <p>Lopez’s Assembly colleagues later told her that she had made an enemy for life. “I said, ‘Good. Some enemies are worth having,’” said Krueger of the former Brooklyn Democratic boss, who lost a City Council race in 2013 and died in November 2015.</p> <p>Still, Krueger acknowledges that the current sexual harassment policy in the Senate does not encourage women to come forward. “I’d like to believe the written policies the Senate came up with and mandatory training might have helped in some small way,” she told Gotham Gazette last week.</p> <p>In 2014, following <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/government/4246-a-culture-of-sexual-harassment-in-albany" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a series of sexual misconduct scandals</a> involving Lopez, Assemblymember Micah Kellner, and Assemblymember Dennis Gabryszak, the Assembly officially changed its policy on sexual harassment, which had last been updated in 2009. In the past, sexual harassment complainants would typically report the incidents to the speaker’s office or the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE), but it was up to the discretion of the speaker’s counsel whether to investigate the complaints.</p> <p>When it was revealed that Speaker Silver did not follow protocol and report misconduct allegations by two staff members against Assemblymember Lopez to the ethics body, instead cutting a secret $103,000 settlement with the women, Silver publically apologized for the lapse and announced that the Assembly would review its practices.</p> <p>To help restructure the chamber’s sexual harassment policy, the Assembly’s ethics committee enlisted CUNY Law School Professor <a href="http://www.law.cuny.edu/faculty/directory/rossein.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Merrick Rossein</a>, an attorney, law professor, and expert in discrimination litigation. Through interviews with women in the Assembly, Rossein made a series of recommendations to the bipartisan legislative task force that was convened to address deficiencies in the Assembly’s policy.</p> <p>“There are a number of things in this policy that I’m very proud of that I’d like to see in every sexual harassment policy, including the private sector,” said Rossein,&nbsp;<span style="font-weight: 400;">who has since been retained by the Assembly as an outside counsel to investigate complaints against members,</span> in an interview with Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>Recommendations made by Rossein include the appointment of an outside investigator to look into complaints; a guarantee of confidentiality for accusers; severe consequences for an employer that retaliates against a complainant; and more. Most importantly, a lawmaker accused of harassment is barred from talking to the accuser until a designated time. Additionally, lawmakers were made mandatory reporters, required to inform the ethics committee about sexual misconduct if they see it or hear about it -- a component women say <a href="http://www.governing.com/topics/politics/gov-sexual-harassment-state-legislatures.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">has had a dramatic impact on the culture in Albany</a>. A hotline has been set up for people to submit tips.</p> <p>The Assembly policy outlines two types of harassment, hostile work environment harassment — which is directed at somebody based on their sex, would be considered offensive by a reasonable person, and is severe or pervasive enough to interfere with one’s work environment — and quid-pro-quo harassment, the type described by victims of Weinstein, in which professional opportunities are offered in exchange for sexual favors.</p> <p>In response to the barrage of corruption and sexual harassment scandals over the last decade, the Legislature has also dramatically revamped the way it approaches its ethics and sexual harassment training, according to Assemblymember Charles Lavine, a Democrat from Nassau County and former chair of the Assembly’s ethics committee. Not only are class sizes smaller, according to Lavine, but they have gone from obligatory and dry, to dynamic, thought-provoking, and interactive.</p> <p>“We have gone from the days when it was almost an obligation to provide -- or what seemed to be at the time -- ethics training that was done in large groups of people,” said Lavine in a January interview with Gotham Gazette. “And while it was content-specific and good, it was not nearly so effective as the modern approach, which is to work with smaller groups of individuals in an interactive environment.”</p> <p>Still, there is undoubtedly more work to be done to rectify inequities for women and in Albany. It likely doesn’t help that those at the top of Albany’s power chain are all men. Many have pushed for Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Westchester County legislator who has led Senate Democrats since 2012 and is the first woman or person of color to lead a legislative conference, to be included at the negotiating table during budget and other high-level talks. Currently, the state’s $150 billion-plus budget is largely hammered out by four men: Governor Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and Senator Jeff Klein, leader of the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), which forms a ruling coalition with the Republican conference. Democrats hope that the 2018 state-level elections and an agreement with the IDC will lead to Stewart-Cousins becoming the leader of a new Senate majority.</p> <p>Having more women in the Legislature would go a long way towards creating a safer space for female employees at all levels of government, according to Stewart-Cousins.</p> <p>“The most disturbing thing is that almost every woman has a story regarding harassment or worse,” said Stewart-Cousins, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “This is true in every walk of life and unfortunately true in government. Only by confronting sexism and gender bias head-on will we be able to truly create a culture which respects everyone equally. We need to support women and pro-women candidates for office and energize pro-women New Yorkers to get out and vote.”</p> <p>An increase in the number of women in Albany has helped reshape the culture from an old boys' club, in which women were largely relegated to secretarial positions, to a more egalitarian environment, where women are not only elected to office, but have risen to acquire key chair positions in both houses and led the passage of women-friendly legislation.</p> <p>Assemblymember Nily Rozic, who became the youngest woman in the state Legislature and the first woman ever to represent Queens’ 25th District when she was elected in 2012, said she has watched the culture transform since she began her tenure in Albany as an aide to Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh.</p> <p>“It’s certainly gotten better since I was a legislative staffer, but we have a long way to go. The underlying change that’s happening is that more women are getting elected to the Legislature and that really positively affects our work place,” said Rozic.</p> <p>Aside from the most serious cases of sexual assault and rape, it’s often sexual comments and diminishing jokes -- such as the one described by DeRosa -- or an extra-long hug that makes the state Legislature a treacherous place for young women.</p> <p>Alexis Grenell, a political strategist and commentator on feminist issues, said the comment described by DeRosa is a quintessential example of how women are verbally undermined in the workplace.</p> <p>“The harassment that Melissa described is fundamentally dehumanizing,” said Grenell. “There is nothing benign about it. It’s meant to take away her worth as a thinking, contributing person in a professional environment and renders her the sum total of her physicality and sex appeal. That is dehumanizing. It’s not why she’s on the call.”</p> <p>Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou, in an interview with Gotham Gazette, recalled her first years as a legislative staffer in Washington, D.C. and as chief of staff to Assemblymember Ron Kim, of Queens. She said that when she first arrived in Albany, Kim warned her not to get into elevators with “the wrong people.” Later, she learned that she had been named on a “hot or not” list that had been circulating among male staffers at the Legislature.</p> <p>“People would stop me in the hallway and say ‘you are just so exotic,’ but you know I’m not going to report them for it,” said Niou, who was elected to Silver’s old Assembly seat in 2016. “It’s just an ignorant and not very thoughtful comment.”</p> <p>These types of incidents collectively create a hostile environment that women internalize and come to see as normal, she said.</p> <p>“Over time, I’ve built this protective shell, like ‘oh these things are just going to bounce right off of me,’ but these things happen every day,” said Niou. “Somebody insists a kiss on the cheek -- like forces it -- but everyone kisses on the cheek, all over Albany people do the kiss-kiss thing.”</p> <p>The cheek kiss, which is often reserved for women in political settings, falls into a bit of a grey area, but many women in government have observed the greeting often provides an opportunity for hands to roam. The Assembly’s newest sexual harassment policy warns that touching -- including brushing against the body, squeezing, hugging, massaging or patting -- may fall under the category of sexual harassment, but that has not ended the practice.</p> <p>Grenell, who frequently holds press conferences at the Capitol, said to bypass the double kiss, she initiates a handshake by extending her arm as far away from her body as possible.</p> <p>A similar strategy is deployed by one Pennsylvania lawmaker, who at a recent women-led panel in the state, explained how she avoids the cheek kiss -- by placing one hand on her colleague’s shoulder, and the other outstretched for a handshake, according to <a href="http://www.philly.com/philly/opinion/commentary/weinstein-sexual-harassment-harrisburg-capitol-lawmakers-sexual-favors-20171027.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an account</a> by a journalist covering the Harrisburg Capitol in the Philadelphia Inquirer.</p> <p>Albany veterans say they have grown accustomed to awkward and demeaning daily experiences.</p> <p>"I've been saying for the last 15 years: Every week, I drive three hours north and 30 years back in history in regards to how we treat women," said Senator Krueger, of Manhattan.</p> <p>With women across all industries, including government, empowered by the Weinstein blowup and its ripples to speak out about their experiences, Krueger said she would not be surprised if it led to another watershed moment in Albany.</p> <p>“I would suspect in the New York State Legislature, like so many other places -- where you have men in powerful positions and young women who might not have a lot of worldly experience, who think these are very important men,” she said, “I wouldn’t be surprised if more stories come out.”</p> <p><em>Update: The story has been updated with allegations about former EDC official Sam Hoyt that emerged Tuesday afternoon.</em></p> <p>

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/7030332993_98be0d5262_z_1.jpg" alt="Cuomo Sheldon Silver Skelos Albany" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo, Sheldon Silver &amp; Dean Skelos in 2012 (photo via The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>As allegations of sexual harassment and assault against disgraced movie producer and major Democratic political donor Harvey Weinstein piled up earlier this month, women around the world took to social media to share stories of abusive behavior using the hashtag <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/MeToo?src=hash" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">#MeToo</a>.</p> <p>The light being shone on the predatory behavior of Weinstein and many others resonated at statehouses across the United States, from California to Rhode Island, where women in politics have been speaking out about sexual misconduct they experienced first-hand or witnessed, with victims including legislators, young staffers and interns, lobbyists, and others.</p> <p>In New York’s capital, the response has been more muted, in part because the Legislature is not currently in session, but also because Albany was recently forced to face its own mishandling of sexual misconduct scandals. As recently as 2014, the aftermath of a debacle around sexual harassment by Assemblymember Vito Lopez, which led to his forced resignation from the Assembly, produced a number of significant reforms to how harassment, misconduct, and discriminatory behavior are addressed in the state Assembly.</p> <p>Now, three years later and amid a national reckoning with issues related to sexual misconduct, women in state government who spoke to Gotham Gazette noted an&nbsp; improvement in the Albany culture since these reforms, but say that sexist attitudes and behavior continue to plague New York state government.</p> <p>While several female legislators were hesitant to speak on the record about their own experiences with sexual harassment, Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa spoke frankly about her own experiences with sexism in the political sphere at a recent forum organized by Berkeley College in Manhattan. She described one incident, a decade ago, when on a conference call, it was announced that she would take the lead on a project. A man on the line, who is now a national leader in progressive politics, according to DeRosa, joked, “She can take the lead right up to my hotel room,” apparently unaware that DeRosa was on the line.</p> <p>“These instances have stuck with me, but I'm not kidding myself and neither should you — many women have and still do experience far worse every day, and it's not just actresses you're reading about in the news this week,” she said, according to <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/transcript-secretary-governor-melissa-derosa-delivers-keynote-address-women-media-courage-own" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a transcript</a> distributed by the governor’s office.</p> <p>Calling for “societal course correction,” DeRosa encouraged young women in all industries to speak out.</p> <p>The statement was a powerful one coming from DeRosa, who at 34 became the youngest person and first woman to be named Secretary to the Governor, the top aide to the state’s most powerful government official, when she was appointed to the post by Governor Andrew Cuomo. Days after DeRosa’s remarks, a former top official in Cuomo’s administration came forward with allegations that her former boss sexually harassed staffers, saying she was inspired by DeRosa’s remarks, <a href="http://nypost.com/2017/10/23/top-cuomo-official-claims-former-boss-sexually-harassed-employees/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">according to The New York Post</a>.</p> <p>Patricia Gunning, who had recently resigned as the special prosecutor/inspector general of the Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs, told The Post that she faced retaliatory violence for calling out her boss for his behavior.</p> <p>“My hope is that this conversation will be the beginning of a new era in [how] these issues are addressed by employers,” Gunning told The Post.</p> <p>On Monday, <a href="http://buffalonews.com/2017/10/30/cuomo-ally-sam-hoyt-leaves-state-post-for-private-sector/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">it was revealed</a> that&nbsp;<span style="font-weight: 400;">Sam Hoyt, a former assemblyman and Cuomo ally who ran Buffalo area projects for the state's Empire State Development Corporation, had abruptly resigned to take a job in the private sector. By Tuesday afternoon, Hoyt, who was disciplined by the Assembly<span style="font-weight: 400;">&nbsp;in 2009 for an affair with 19-year-old intern, <a href="http://buffalonews.com/2017/10/31/state-employee-says-hoyt-paid-her-50000-to-conceal-relationship/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">was accused</a> by a former state employee of pressuring her into a romantic relationship. She told Buffalo News that she was paid $50,000 for her silence.</span> </span></p> <p><span>In <a href="https://twitter.com/NickReisman/status/925443753200021505" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a statement</a>,&nbsp;<span>Cuomo spokesperson Dani Lever acknowledged that allegations of misconduct had emerged against Hoyt and that an investigation was underway.</span></span></p> <p>"All state employees must act with integrity and respect," the statement read. "When the complainant made these allegations, they were immediately refered to the&nbsp; <span style="font-weight: 400;">Governor's Office of Employee Relations (GOER)&nbsp;</span>for an investigation."</p> <p>After GOER determined there were grounds for further review, the matter was refered to the Inspector General's Office, and later, the&nbsp;<span style="font-weight: 400;">Joint Commission of Public Ethics (JCOPE), according to the statement. Hoyt maintains that the relationship was consentual, according to Buffalo News.</span></p> <p>But while to this point there has not been a new public outcry at the New York Legislature, female lawmakers say that the Weinstein scandal and its fallout have struck a chord and sparked private conversations about their early experiences in Albany and how they can best aid young female staff aides and legislators.</p> <p>One such conversation occurred at <a href="http://nyassembly.gov/comm/?id=85" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a retreat</a> for the Women’s Legislative Caucus in Saratoga two weeks ago, where women shared uncomfortable incidents they had experienced early in their careers and discussed how they could better unify when scandals occur, according to Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a Buffalo area lawmaker who chairs the Women’s Caucus. One thing agreed upon, Peoples-Stokes said, was that the Assembly’s sexual harassment enforcement could be enhanced by a mentorship program for incoming members and their aides.</p> <p>“We wanted to see if there is anything we can do in addition to ensure that we never need to have these experiences again,” said Peoples-Stokes. “It is something that we decided we are going to do as women of the Legislature, and you know, when women decide to do something, we get it done.”</p> <p>While the Assembly reforms appear to have improved the culture in the 150-seat chamber, Albany’s sexual harassment problem has not disappeared. The Senate and the Assembly <a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2016/11/legislature-spends-271k-on-sexual-harassment-cases/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">have spent</a> hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past two years on outside counsel to investigate sexual harassment complaints. The Assembly’s ethics committee -- which exists solely to enforce policy on sexual harassment, discrimination, and retaliation -- <a href="https://twitter.com/RachelSilby/status/917812909106978816" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">convened a meeting</a> in executive session on October 12 and is expected to meet again on November 2. The matter at hand is not clear.<br /> <br />Currently reported to be under investigation by JCOPE and the Erie County District Attorney’s office is Senator Marc Panepinto, a Democrat from Buffalo, who announced he would not seek reelection last year <a href="http://nypost.com/2016/03/17/state-senator-faces-ethics-probe-amid-lurid-sexual-harassment-allegations/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">amid rumors</a> of sexual harassment. Also last year, the Senate paid out $121,000 for two contracts with Kraus &amp; Zuchlewski LLP “for legal counsel related to U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission matters and investigation of sexual harassment claims.”</p> <p>Assembly members who spoke with Gotham Gazette acknowledged the body’s embarrassing history of dismissing sexual misconduct claims internally, which has led to a slew of unflattering headlines in 2012 and 2013, but noted that <span style="font-weight: 400;">an influx of female legislators to the Assembly in recent years has also helped to reshape the culture</span>. At the Senate, such scandals and its culture of protecting those in power has not drawn the same scrutiny.</p> <p>Last week, New York’s chapter of the National Organization of Women (NOW) made an effort to further jumpstart the conversation, calling on women and men who currently or previously work(ed) in government in Albany and throughout the state to speak out about their personal experiences with sexual harassment or assault while on the job, citing the Legislature’s history of quashing sexual harassment complaints.<br /> <br />“Government sets the standard and the policies and the laws that all other industries are asked to uphold,” said Sonia Ossorio, president of the National Organization for Women - New York, said in a statement. “Given that Albany is a place where lawmakers have abused their power and sexual harassment has gone unchecked in the past, we felt it was important to give women in politics a platform to speak up.”</p> <p>The women’s advocacy organization has <a href="http://nownys.org/whistleblower-hotline-for-sexual-harassment-in-government/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">announced</a> the creation of a new, dedicated hotline for individuals in government to report their experiences (people can call 518-362-7857 or submit a story online at <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/nownys.org" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">nownys.org</a>).</p> <p>In an interview with Gotham Gazette, Ossorio said the goal is to build on the momentum of the #MeToo movement. The hotline will provide independent counsel and resources to victims while also assessing how effective recent policies have been, she said.</p> <p>“We immediately thought about the culture that has existed in Albany and we wanted to be able to empower women who work in politics, particularly young women and interns who head to their internships idealistic and wanting to be part of American government and are disillusioned by it,” she said. “We really want to know to what degree the environment of sexual harassment has been uprooted.”</p> <p>The personal stories tumbling out of statehouses around the nation are eerily familiar to anyone who has closely watched New York state government in recent years. In California, women leaders in government have formed a campaign called “We Said Enough,” sharing stories about how they have endured groping, inappropriate comments about their bodies and abilities, and insults and jokes that diminish them professionally. In some cases, “men have made promises, or threats, about our jobs in exchange for our compliance, or our silence. They have leveraged their power and positions to treat us however they would like,” wrote the group <a href="https://www.wesaidenough.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">on a website</a> created for women to submit their stories.</p> <p>An open letter circulated by members of the Illinois Legislature drew a direct comparison between the Weinstein scandal and the coercive situations in which women in government find themselves and had drawn 130 signatures by Tuesday afternoon, <a href="https://t.co/zZUEBcBYR7" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the AP reported</a>.</p> <p>"Every industry has its own version of the casting couch," reads the letter. "Ask any woman who has lobbied the halls of the Capitol, staffed Council Chambers, or slogged through brutal hours on the campaign trail. Misogyny is alive and well in this industry."</p> <p>Albany, which has historically been referred to as the New York’s own “sin city,” is <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2004/05/16/nyregion/albany-faces-its-sex-problem-and-nobody-s-snickering.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">no stranger to such scandals</a>. Repeatedly, a series of particularly egregious complaints of sexual harassment or rape has led the Legislature to a watershed moment of sorts, producing much-needed reform in how accusers are treated and how their complaints are handled.</p> <p>A major turning point for the Assembly occurred <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2004/05/16/nyregion/albany-faces-its-sex-problem-and-nobody-s-snickering.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in 2004</a>, when, roiling from a series of rape accusations against Assemblymember Adam Clayton Powell IV and Michael Boxley, chief counsel to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, its leadership decided to bar members of the Legislature from fraternizing with interns.</p> <p>In the state Senate, a somewhat similar soul-searching happened, but at the time many of its members were strongly opposed to the idea of an intern-fraternization ban.</p> <p>In comparison to the 150-seat Assembly, sex scandals in the 63-seat Senate have unfolded more discreetly -- hinted at through <a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2016/11/legislature-spends-271k-on-sexual-harassment-cases/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">money spent on lawyers</a> or a senator or a top aide <a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2017/09/flanagan-hires/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">leaving the job</a> abruptly amid rumors -- and as a result the body’s leadership has not been forced to publicly reckon with its record in the same way, according to Senator Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat who was instrumental in compelling the Senate to implement a mandatory sexual harassment training program.</p> <p>A decade ago, Krueger said she was privy to two incidents involving interns who were molested by older male senators. One incident occurred in a packed elevator and Krueger famously threatened to kick the senator if he touched an intern again. The other time she learned of a sexual assault claim when she found a young staffer crying outside a senator’s office at the Capitol.</p> <p>After the second incident, Krueger, who is known for her bluntness on the topic, said she urged then-Senate Leader Joe Bruno, a Republican from the Capital Region, to create mandatory sexual harassment training for all senators. When she threatened to hold a press conference naming and shaming the offending senators, Bruno, who later stepped down from the leadership role amid his own public corruption scandal, responded he would hold a competing press conference naming Democratic senators.</p> <p>The way Krueger tells it, she said, “I didn't tell you [what] party this senator is in. I don't give a damn what party they are. We can do a joint press conference, and we all can name names. I don't give a [expletive].” To which Bruno responded, “OK, OK, we'll do mandatory sexual harassment training,” Krueger <a href="http://www.timesunion.com/womenatwork/article/Liz-Krueger-Q-A-on-women-in-politics-9186948.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">told The Albany Times Union</a>.</p> <p>The training became mandatory for senators and staff members and the regulations were clearly stated in a written document.</p> <p>It was not the last time Kreuger took her colleagues in the Legislature <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/government/4246-a-culture-of-sexual-harassment-in-albany" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">to task</a> over crimes against women. In June 2003, when Boxley was <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2003/06/12/nyregion/aide-to-silver-is-arrested-in-rape-case.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">led out of the Capitol in handcuffs</a>, having been accused of rape for the second time, Krueger said she had a very public confrontation with Assemblymember Lopez, who a decade later would be toppled by his own slew of sexual harassment scandals. They were scheduled, coincidentally, to hold a joint press conference in front of the Legislative Correspondents Association office. According to Krueger, the Assembly member fumed, “How dare they come over here and arrest our counsel in our house?”</p> <p>“I said ‘excuse me, he was tried with rape,’ pause, ‘for the second time,’ pause,” Krueger recalled to Gotham Gazette, “‘It seems to me that if you have anything to say publicly about this, it's let justice be fair and swift. Otherwise, I think you should keep your mouth shut.'”</p> <p>Lopez’s Assembly colleagues later told her that she had made an enemy for life. “I said, ‘Good. Some enemies are worth having,’” said Krueger of the former Brooklyn Democratic boss, who lost a City Council race in 2013 and died in November 2015.</p> <p>Still, Krueger acknowledges that the current sexual harassment policy in the Senate does not encourage women to come forward. “I’d like to believe the written policies the Senate came up with and mandatory training might have helped in some small way,” she told Gotham Gazette last week.</p> <p>In 2014, following <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/government/4246-a-culture-of-sexual-harassment-in-albany" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a series of sexual misconduct scandals</a> involving Lopez, Assemblymember Micah Kellner, and Assemblymember Dennis Gabryszak, the Assembly officially changed its policy on sexual harassment, which had last been updated in 2009. In the past, sexual harassment complainants would typically report the incidents to the speaker’s office or the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE), but it was up to the discretion of the speaker’s counsel whether to investigate the complaints.</p> <p>When it was revealed that Speaker Silver did not follow protocol and report misconduct allegations by two staff members against Assemblymember Lopez to the ethics body, instead cutting a secret $103,000 settlement with the women, Silver publically apologized for the lapse and announced that the Assembly would review its practices.</p> <p>To help restructure the chamber’s sexual harassment policy, the Assembly’s ethics committee enlisted CUNY Law School Professor <a href="http://www.law.cuny.edu/faculty/directory/rossein.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Merrick Rossein</a>, an attorney, law professor, and expert in discrimination litigation. Through interviews with women in the Assembly, Rossein made a series of recommendations to the bipartisan legislative task force that was convened to address deficiencies in the Assembly’s policy.</p> <p>“There are a number of things in this policy that I’m very proud of that I’d like to see in every sexual harassment policy, including the private sector,” said Rossein,&nbsp;<span style="font-weight: 400;">who has since been retained by the Assembly as an outside counsel to investigate complaints against members,</span> in an interview with Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>Recommendations made by Rossein include the appointment of an outside investigator to look into complaints; a guarantee of confidentiality for accusers; severe consequences for an employer that retaliates against a complainant; and more. Most importantly, a lawmaker accused of harassment is barred from talking to the accuser until a designated time. Additionally, lawmakers were made mandatory reporters, required to inform the ethics committee about sexual misconduct if they see it or hear about it -- a component women say <a href="http://www.governing.com/topics/politics/gov-sexual-harassment-state-legislatures.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">has had a dramatic impact on the culture in Albany</a>. A hotline has been set up for people to submit tips.</p> <p>The Assembly policy outlines two types of harassment, hostile work environment harassment — which is directed at somebody based on their sex, would be considered offensive by a reasonable person, and is severe or pervasive enough to interfere with one’s work environment — and quid-pro-quo harassment, the type described by victims of Weinstein, in which professional opportunities are offered in exchange for sexual favors.</p> <p>In response to the barrage of corruption and sexual harassment scandals over the last decade, the Legislature has also dramatically revamped the way it approaches its ethics and sexual harassment training, according to Assemblymember Charles Lavine, a Democrat from Nassau County and former chair of the Assembly’s ethics committee. Not only are class sizes smaller, according to Lavine, but they have gone from obligatory and dry, to dynamic, thought-provoking, and interactive.</p> <p>“We have gone from the days when it was almost an obligation to provide -- or what seemed to be at the time -- ethics training that was done in large groups of people,” said Lavine in a January interview with Gotham Gazette. “And while it was content-specific and good, it was not nearly so effective as the modern approach, which is to work with smaller groups of individuals in an interactive environment.”</p> <p>Still, there is undoubtedly more work to be done to rectify inequities for women and in Albany. It likely doesn’t help that those at the top of Albany’s power chain are all men. Many have pushed for Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Westchester County legislator who has led Senate Democrats since 2012 and is the first woman or person of color to lead a legislative conference, to be included at the negotiating table during budget and other high-level talks. Currently, the state’s $150 billion-plus budget is largely hammered out by four men: Governor Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and Senator Jeff Klein, leader of the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), which forms a ruling coalition with the Republican conference. Democrats hope that the 2018 state-level elections and an agreement with the IDC will lead to Stewart-Cousins becoming the leader of a new Senate majority.</p> <p>Having more women in the Legislature would go a long way towards creating a safer space for female employees at all levels of government, according to Stewart-Cousins.</p> <p>“The most disturbing thing is that almost every woman has a story regarding harassment or worse,” said Stewart-Cousins, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “This is true in every walk of life and unfortunately true in government. Only by confronting sexism and gender bias head-on will we be able to truly create a culture which respects everyone equally. We need to support women and pro-women candidates for office and energize pro-women New Yorkers to get out and vote.”</p> <p>An increase in the number of women in Albany has helped reshape the culture from an old boys' club, in which women were largely relegated to secretarial positions, to a more egalitarian environment, where women are not only elected to office, but have risen to acquire key chair positions in both houses and led the passage of women-friendly legislation.</p> <p>Assemblymember Nily Rozic, who became the youngest woman in the state Legislature and the first woman ever to represent Queens’ 25th District when she was elected in 2012, said she has watched the culture transform since she began her tenure in Albany as an aide to Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh.</p> <p>“It’s certainly gotten better since I was a legislative staffer, but we have a long way to go. The underlying change that’s happening is that more women are getting elected to the Legislature and that really positively affects our work place,” said Rozic.</p> <p>Aside from the most serious cases of sexual assault and rape, it’s often sexual comments and diminishing jokes -- such as the one described by DeRosa -- or an extra-long hug that makes the state Legislature a treacherous place for young women.</p> <p>Alexis Grenell, a political strategist and commentator on feminist issues, said the comment described by DeRosa is a quintessential example of how women are verbally undermined in the workplace.</p> <p>“The harassment that Melissa described is fundamentally dehumanizing,” said Grenell. “There is nothing benign about it. It’s meant to take away her worth as a thinking, contributing person in a professional environment and renders her the sum total of her physicality and sex appeal. That is dehumanizing. It’s not why she’s on the call.”</p> <p>Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou, in an interview with Gotham Gazette, recalled her first years as a legislative staffer in Washington, D.C. and as chief of staff to Assemblymember Ron Kim, of Queens. She said that when she first arrived in Albany, Kim warned her not to get into elevators with “the wrong people.” Later, she learned that she had been named on a “hot or not” list that had been circulating among male staffers at the Legislature.</p> <p>“People would stop me in the hallway and say ‘you are just so exotic,’ but you know I’m not going to report them for it,” said Niou, who was elected to Silver’s old Assembly seat in 2016. “It’s just an ignorant and not very thoughtful comment.”</p> <p>These types of incidents collectively create a hostile environment that women internalize and come to see as normal, she said.</p> <p>“Over time, I’ve built this protective shell, like ‘oh these things are just going to bounce right off of me,’ but these things happen every day,” said Niou. “Somebody insists a kiss on the cheek -- like forces it -- but everyone kisses on the cheek, all over Albany people do the kiss-kiss thing.”</p> <p>The cheek kiss, which is often reserved for women in political settings, falls into a bit of a grey area, but many women in government have observed the greeting often provides an opportunity for hands to roam. The Assembly’s newest sexual harassment policy warns that touching -- including brushing against the body, squeezing, hugging, massaging or patting -- may fall under the category of sexual harassment, but that has not ended the practice.</p> <p>Grenell, who frequently holds press conferences at the Capitol, said to bypass the double kiss, she initiates a handshake by extending her arm as far away from her body as possible.</p> <p>A similar strategy is deployed by one Pennsylvania lawmaker, who at a recent women-led panel in the state, explained how she avoids the cheek kiss -- by placing one hand on her colleague’s shoulder, and the other outstretched for a handshake, according to <a href="http://www.philly.com/philly/opinion/commentary/weinstein-sexual-harassment-harrisburg-capitol-lawmakers-sexual-favors-20171027.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an account</a> by a journalist covering the Harrisburg Capitol in the Philadelphia Inquirer.</p> <p>Albany veterans say they have grown accustomed to awkward and demeaning daily experiences.</p> <p>"I've been saying for the last 15 years: Every week, I drive three hours north and 30 years back in history in regards to how we treat women," said Senator Krueger, of Manhattan.</p> <p>With women across all industries, including government, empowered by the Weinstein blowup and its ripples to speak out about their experiences, Krueger said she would not be surprised if it led to another watershed moment in Albany.</p> <p>“I would suspect in the New York State Legislature, like so many other places -- where you have men in powerful positions and young women who might not have a lot of worldly experience, who think these are very important men,” she said, “I wouldn’t be surprised if more stories come out.”</p> <p><em>Update: The story has been updated with allegations about former EDC official Sam Hoyt that emerged Tuesday afternoon.</em></p> <p>

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
With Session Ending and Trial Looming, No Legislative Response to Bid-rigging Scandal 2017-06-18T04:00:00+00:00 2017-06-18T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7007:with-session-ending-and-trial-looming-no-legislative-response-to-bid-rigging-scandal Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/24253948132_378146d4bd_z_1.jpg" alt="Cuomo Flanagan Heastie" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Flanagan, Cuomo, Heastie (photo: The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>With just three scheduled days left in the legislative session and the corruption trial of several close associates of Governor Andrew Cuomo for their roles in a bid-rigging scandal scheduled to commence in October, the Legislature has yet to pass any meaningful legislation to prevent such abuses of the procurement process.</p> <p>State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli has introduced a comprehensive bill to address the issue, which is the basis for a Senate bill sponsored by Senator John DeFrancisco, a Syracuse Republican, and sister legislation by Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a Buffalo Democrat. The legislation would restore authority of the Comptroller to pre-audit all state contracts over $250,000, particularly for SUNY and CUNY affiliated non-profits, a power that was stripped in 2011.</p> <p>That year, Cuomo and legislative leaders (who are now headed to jail) said that the scaling back of oversight was necessary in order to expedite approval for the governor’s signature economic development initiatives. The idea that the Comptroller’s contract review slows down projects is misguided, according to budget watchdogs. The Comptroller has up to 30 days to approve a contract, but on average approves contracts within six days, according to April figures provided by DiNapoli’s office.</p> <p>The absence of an independent oversight body appears to have cleared the way for the massive $800 million bribery scheme that took down close Cuomo associate and friend Joe Percoco, as well as then-SUNY Polytechnic President Alain Kaloyeros, who Cuomo had heaped praise and responsibility on, and several major donors to Cuomo who were awarded large contracts. The alleged scheme was uncovered by the office of then-U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.</p> <p>More recently, Bart Schwartz, head of Guidepost Solutions LLC, who was hired by Cuomo to probe the contracting process and what might have gone wrong, found significant flaws. In his review of the $417 million awarded to vendors at Buffalo’s SolarCity project and other upstate initiatives, he found that at least $49 million was awarded using a “sloppy process.” The Buffalo News <a href="http://buffalonews.com/2017/06/15/report-cuomo-outlines-states-sloppy-buffalo-billion-billing-process/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">first reported</a> the details of Schwartz’s report, which the Cuomo administration had failed to make public, but was obtained through the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL). Schwartz was paid as much as $1 million for his investigative work and the Cuomo administration has indicated that it accepted his recommendations for cleaning up contracting processes.</p> <p>While DeFrancisco’s bill has passed the Senate’s finance committee, and the Assembly on Wednesday tweaked its version of the bill to match the Senate’s, legislative leaders offered reserved endorsements of the legislation, and it has yet to be calendared for a floor vote in either house.</p> <p>Both Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie have said they support the restoration of pre-auditing powers to the comptroller’s office, but that they are working towards a “three-way agreement” with the governor before advancing the legislation, which is backed by good government groups and many rank-and-file lawmakers.</p> <p>Meanwhile, the governor has been defiant, saying that the powers should not be returned to the Comptroller. Instead, Cuomo in his 2017 policy book proposed expanding the oversight powers of the state inspector general to include procurement at CUNY and SUNY nonprofits, as well as new inspectors general, appointed by and reporting to the executive branch. In the aftermath of the scandal, Cuomo also vowed to create a chief procurement officer in the executive branch.</p> <p>“The proposed legislation does not address the issue and is both burdensome and duplicative,” said Cuomo’s counsel, Alphonso David, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “The vast majority of these contracts are subject to OSC [Office of the State Comptroller] post-award oversight and these measures only add significant delays and increase costs for New York taxpayers.”</p> <p>David’s statement highlights a key difference between the governor’s proposal and the “clean contracting” legislation backed by the comptroller and government reformers, which emphasizes prevention, making SUNY and CUNY projects subject to the same early scrutiny and standards as other state-funded projects, rather than after-the-fact oversight.</p> <p>“The governor's proposal utterly and totally misses the point because it creates addition inspector generals who are appointed by the governor,” said John Kaehny, executive director of the government reform group ReInvent Albany. “The problem...was bid-rigging; the state contracts were rigged to favor one vendor over the others, and that could have been prevented by independent, pre-contract review.”</p> <p>Representatives from the Reinvent Albany, New York Public Interest Group, League of Women Voters, and Citizens Budget Commission gathered at the Capitol this past Wednesday, with the blessing of other government reform groups, to call on Albany to pass the legislation -- with or without the governor’s support.</p> <p>“If lawmakers are at all serious about addressing the problems that happened with last year’s bid-rigging scandal they need to support prevention of these crime -- and that means independent pre-contract review,” said Kaehny.</p> <p>They noted that the Legislature is granted power to enact legislation without the governor’s support, first by passing it through both houses. If Cuomo does not then sign or veto the bill, it would automatically become law in 10 days. If the governor vetoes it, the Legislature could independently reconvene to override his veto. More than a majority, two-thirds of each house, must vote in favor in order pass legislation rejected by the governor. As a result, veto overrides are rare; <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/27/nyregion/legislature-overrides-most-budget-vetoes-but-pataki-says-he-will.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the last time</a> the Legislature successfully overrode a gubernatorial veto was in 2006, during a tumultuous budget negotiation that took place during the last year of Governor George Pataki’s final term, when legislative leaders went to bat over a property tax rebate and cuts to state university funding.&nbsp;</p> <p>Among those who floated the idea of the Legislature passing the bill without the governor’s support is Senator DeFrancisco, who expressed frustration the procurement reform legislation was not calendared earlier.</p> <p>“I try to advocate for it all the time. I know the governor is apoplectic against it and he’d rather have an inspector general that he can control,” DeFrancisco told reporters at the Capitol on June 12. “Hopefully reason will prevail.”</p> <p>When asked to elaborate on the problems with the governor’s proposal, DeFrancisco said, “What he wanted in the budget was to have an independent inspector general, appointed by him to review his contracts. I don’t think you have to be a lawyer, you just have to be somewhat sane to realize that that’s not a check and balance on anybody. He doesn’t want to lose that control and have that oversight. There’s no other logic why he wouldn’t do it.”</p> <p>Speaker Heastie, in an interview with Gotham Gazette, remained coy about the possibility of passing the legislation and reconvening to override a potential gubernatorial veto.</p> <p>"Those are always options, that are there but again you are asking me what you are going to do on failure, I don’t like to report on failure,“ he said, adding that there is always “the summer” and “next session” to pass legislation.</p> <p>“The end of session is a deadline, but it’s not the end of the world if there is ever a need for us to do anything legislatively. We said we’ll come back if the actions in Washington dictate us to come back,” he said. “If we have to come back, the members will come back."</p> <p>Majority Leader Flanagan expressed only slightly more enthusiasm about the idea of procurement reform. Calling the oversight measure “extraordinarily important,” Flanagan said, “I expect we will have procurement reform before the end of the session, whether it’s [legislation proposed by] Senator DeFrancisco or a variation of that bill, I expect we will move in that direction.”</p> <p>The bill has widespread support in the Legislature; minority leaders say they also support the comptroller-backed proposal, which also ends contracting for non-academic purposes by state-controlled non-profit organizations, and transfers all economic development awards to the the Empire State Development Corporation.</p> <p>However, Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) Leader Senator Jeff Klein struck a different tone Thursday, saying he opposed DeFrancisco’s legislation. The IDC and GOP have a power-sharing alliance in the Senate. Klein said he intends to introduce a new bill this week, which instead of restoring the comptroller’s powers would appoint an independent investigator to look at claims of misconduct. When pressed, he did not clarify how this proposal differed from the governor’s proposal.</p> <p>“Right now the power of the comptroller is post-audit -- so what I would assume is if there is any problem in the procurement process, you’d be able to spot any problem post-audit. Then why would you need to have pre-audit ability?” said Klein. “I think what we need is a downright investigator -- someone who has the power to investigate the contracting process as it moves forward, to make sure there’s no favoritism, to make sure there’s no bribery.”</p> <p>This past week, the bill’s Assembly sponsor, Peoples-Stokes, also expressed second thoughts about how the legislation could slow the approval for contracts for minority- and women-owned businesses that are awarded grants by the state’s Empire State Development Corporation, or impact healthcare organizations like Roswell Park Cancer Institute, a public not-for-profit that would be subject to increased scrutiny.</p> <p>“The last thing we want is processes to slow down their ability to grow...At first blush, it seems like great legislation, when you delve in there’s some things that need to be tweaked,” said Peoples-Stokes. “I’m grateful there’s some lawyers and a team around here that can help me straighten something out. I think what happened in 2011, that maybe we should takes some looks at, but all these other things.”</p> <p>Earlier this year, a month after talks of a long-awaited pay raise for lawmakers turned sour, legislative leaders seemed ready to take a different approach than they are now, vowing to stand up to the executive branch.</p> <p>In January, during his remarks on opening day of the 2017 session, Flanagan urged his fellow lawmakers to stand up to the governor over the economic development programs, which were marred by the alleged bid-rigging scandal and other accountability problems. Urging his fellow legislators to “ask tough questions” on the progress of economic initiatives like Start-Up NY and Regional Economic Development Councils, Flanagan cited the Legislature’s power as a check on the governor.</p> <p>“It’s very simple, the legislative power of the state is vested in the Senate and the Assembly,” Flanagan said in January. “Not the attorney general, not the controller, and not the governor.”</p> <p>In the budget deal passed in April, Cuomo’s signature economic development and infrastructure programs were fully-funded and no new oversight measures were passed.</p> <p><a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2017/s6613" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Another bill</a>, sponsored by Senator Thomas Croci, a Long Island Republican, would create a searchable “database of deals,” cataloguing all businesses that have been awarded state subsidies -- a system in place in six other states -- has made no headway in the Senate or Assembly.</p> <p>

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/24253948132_378146d4bd_z_1.jpg" alt="Cuomo Flanagan Heastie" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Flanagan, Cuomo, Heastie (photo: The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>With just three scheduled days left in the legislative session and the corruption trial of several close associates of Governor Andrew Cuomo for their roles in a bid-rigging scandal scheduled to commence in October, the Legislature has yet to pass any meaningful legislation to prevent such abuses of the procurement process.</p> <p>State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli has introduced a comprehensive bill to address the issue, which is the basis for a Senate bill sponsored by Senator John DeFrancisco, a Syracuse Republican, and sister legislation by Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a Buffalo Democrat. The legislation would restore authority of the Comptroller to pre-audit all state contracts over $250,000, particularly for SUNY and CUNY affiliated non-profits, a power that was stripped in 2011.</p> <p>That year, Cuomo and legislative leaders (who are now headed to jail) said that the scaling back of oversight was necessary in order to expedite approval for the governor’s signature economic development initiatives. The idea that the Comptroller’s contract review slows down projects is misguided, according to budget watchdogs. The Comptroller has up to 30 days to approve a contract, but on average approves contracts within six days, according to April figures provided by DiNapoli’s office.</p> <p>The absence of an independent oversight body appears to have cleared the way for the massive $800 million bribery scheme that took down close Cuomo associate and friend Joe Percoco, as well as then-SUNY Polytechnic President Alain Kaloyeros, who Cuomo had heaped praise and responsibility on, and several major donors to Cuomo who were awarded large contracts. The alleged scheme was uncovered by the office of then-U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.</p> <p>More recently, Bart Schwartz, head of Guidepost Solutions LLC, who was hired by Cuomo to probe the contracting process and what might have gone wrong, found significant flaws. In his review of the $417 million awarded to vendors at Buffalo’s SolarCity project and other upstate initiatives, he found that at least $49 million was awarded using a “sloppy process.” The Buffalo News <a href="http://buffalonews.com/2017/06/15/report-cuomo-outlines-states-sloppy-buffalo-billion-billing-process/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">first reported</a> the details of Schwartz’s report, which the Cuomo administration had failed to make public, but was obtained through the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL). Schwartz was paid as much as $1 million for his investigative work and the Cuomo administration has indicated that it accepted his recommendations for cleaning up contracting processes.</p> <p>While DeFrancisco’s bill has passed the Senate’s finance committee, and the Assembly on Wednesday tweaked its version of the bill to match the Senate’s, legislative leaders offered reserved endorsements of the legislation, and it has yet to be calendared for a floor vote in either house.</p> <p>Both Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie have said they support the restoration of pre-auditing powers to the comptroller’s office, but that they are working towards a “three-way agreement” with the governor before advancing the legislation, which is backed by good government groups and many rank-and-file lawmakers.</p> <p>Meanwhile, the governor has been defiant, saying that the powers should not be returned to the Comptroller. Instead, Cuomo in his 2017 policy book proposed expanding the oversight powers of the state inspector general to include procurement at CUNY and SUNY nonprofits, as well as new inspectors general, appointed by and reporting to the executive branch. In the aftermath of the scandal, Cuomo also vowed to create a chief procurement officer in the executive branch.</p> <p>“The proposed legislation does not address the issue and is both burdensome and duplicative,” said Cuomo’s counsel, Alphonso David, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “The vast majority of these contracts are subject to OSC [Office of the State Comptroller] post-award oversight and these measures only add significant delays and increase costs for New York taxpayers.”</p> <p>David’s statement highlights a key difference between the governor’s proposal and the “clean contracting” legislation backed by the comptroller and government reformers, which emphasizes prevention, making SUNY and CUNY projects subject to the same early scrutiny and standards as other state-funded projects, rather than after-the-fact oversight.</p> <p>“The governor's proposal utterly and totally misses the point because it creates addition inspector generals who are appointed by the governor,” said John Kaehny, executive director of the government reform group ReInvent Albany. “The problem...was bid-rigging; the state contracts were rigged to favor one vendor over the others, and that could have been prevented by independent, pre-contract review.”</p> <p>Representatives from the Reinvent Albany, New York Public Interest Group, League of Women Voters, and Citizens Budget Commission gathered at the Capitol this past Wednesday, with the blessing of other government reform groups, to call on Albany to pass the legislation -- with or without the governor’s support.</p> <p>“If lawmakers are at all serious about addressing the problems that happened with last year’s bid-rigging scandal they need to support prevention of these crime -- and that means independent pre-contract review,” said Kaehny.</p> <p>They noted that the Legislature is granted power to enact legislation without the governor’s support, first by passing it through both houses. If Cuomo does not then sign or veto the bill, it would automatically become law in 10 days. If the governor vetoes it, the Legislature could independently reconvene to override his veto. More than a majority, two-thirds of each house, must vote in favor in order pass legislation rejected by the governor. As a result, veto overrides are rare; <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/27/nyregion/legislature-overrides-most-budget-vetoes-but-pataki-says-he-will.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the last time</a> the Legislature successfully overrode a gubernatorial veto was in 2006, during a tumultuous budget negotiation that took place during the last year of Governor George Pataki’s final term, when legislative leaders went to bat over a property tax rebate and cuts to state university funding.&nbsp;</p> <p>Among those who floated the idea of the Legislature passing the bill without the governor’s support is Senator DeFrancisco, who expressed frustration the procurement reform legislation was not calendared earlier.</p> <p>“I try to advocate for it all the time. I know the governor is apoplectic against it and he’d rather have an inspector general that he can control,” DeFrancisco told reporters at the Capitol on June 12. “Hopefully reason will prevail.”</p> <p>When asked to elaborate on the problems with the governor’s proposal, DeFrancisco said, “What he wanted in the budget was to have an independent inspector general, appointed by him to review his contracts. I don’t think you have to be a lawyer, you just have to be somewhat sane to realize that that’s not a check and balance on anybody. He doesn’t want to lose that control and have that oversight. There’s no other logic why he wouldn’t do it.”</p> <p>Speaker Heastie, in an interview with Gotham Gazette, remained coy about the possibility of passing the legislation and reconvening to override a potential gubernatorial veto.</p> <p>"Those are always options, that are there but again you are asking me what you are going to do on failure, I don’t like to report on failure,“ he said, adding that there is always “the summer” and “next session” to pass legislation.</p> <p>“The end of session is a deadline, but it’s not the end of the world if there is ever a need for us to do anything legislatively. We said we’ll come back if the actions in Washington dictate us to come back,” he said. “If we have to come back, the members will come back."</p> <p>Majority Leader Flanagan expressed only slightly more enthusiasm about the idea of procurement reform. Calling the oversight measure “extraordinarily important,” Flanagan said, “I expect we will have procurement reform before the end of the session, whether it’s [legislation proposed by] Senator DeFrancisco or a variation of that bill, I expect we will move in that direction.”</p> <p>The bill has widespread support in the Legislature; minority leaders say they also support the comptroller-backed proposal, which also ends contracting for non-academic purposes by state-controlled non-profit organizations, and transfers all economic development awards to the the Empire State Development Corporation.</p> <p>However, Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) Leader Senator Jeff Klein struck a different tone Thursday, saying he opposed DeFrancisco’s legislation. The IDC and GOP have a power-sharing alliance in the Senate. Klein said he intends to introduce a new bill this week, which instead of restoring the comptroller’s powers would appoint an independent investigator to look at claims of misconduct. When pressed, he did not clarify how this proposal differed from the governor’s proposal.</p> <p>“Right now the power of the comptroller is post-audit -- so what I would assume is if there is any problem in the procurement process, you’d be able to spot any problem post-audit. Then why would you need to have pre-audit ability?” said Klein. “I think what we need is a downright investigator -- someone who has the power to investigate the contracting process as it moves forward, to make sure there’s no favoritism, to make sure there’s no bribery.”</p> <p>This past week, the bill’s Assembly sponsor, Peoples-Stokes, also expressed second thoughts about how the legislation could slow the approval for contracts for minority- and women-owned businesses that are awarded grants by the state’s Empire State Development Corporation, or impact healthcare organizations like Roswell Park Cancer Institute, a public not-for-profit that would be subject to increased scrutiny.</p> <p>“The last thing we want is processes to slow down their ability to grow...At first blush, it seems like great legislation, when you delve in there’s some things that need to be tweaked,” said Peoples-Stokes. “I’m grateful there’s some lawyers and a team around here that can help me straighten something out. I think what happened in 2011, that maybe we should takes some looks at, but all these other things.”</p> <p>Earlier this year, a month after talks of a long-awaited pay raise for lawmakers turned sour, legislative leaders seemed ready to take a different approach than they are now, vowing to stand up to the executive branch.</p> <p>In January, during his remarks on opening day of the 2017 session, Flanagan urged his fellow lawmakers to stand up to the governor over the economic development programs, which were marred by the alleged bid-rigging scandal and other accountability problems. Urging his fellow legislators to “ask tough questions” on the progress of economic initiatives like Start-Up NY and Regional Economic Development Councils, Flanagan cited the Legislature’s power as a check on the governor.</p> <p>“It’s very simple, the legislative power of the state is vested in the Senate and the Assembly,” Flanagan said in January. “Not the attorney general, not the controller, and not the governor.”</p> <p>In the budget deal passed in April, Cuomo’s signature economic development and infrastructure programs were fully-funded and no new oversight measures were passed.</p> <p><a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2017/s6613" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Another bill</a>, sponsored by Senator Thomas Croci, a Long Island Republican, would create a searchable “database of deals,” cataloguing all businesses that have been awarded state subsidies -- a system in place in six other states -- has made no headway in the Senate or Assembly.</p> <p>

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>