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How not to build trust

Last July, when he announced the formation of the Commission to Investigate Public Corruption under the state’s Moreland Act, Gov. Andrew Cuomo promised to “convene the best minds in law enforcement and public policy from across New York to address weaknesses in the state’s public corruption, election and campaign finance laws, generate transparency and accountability, and restore the public trust.”

Today, the governor himself seems to have a public trust deficit. Ever since a July 23 New York Times article titled “Cuomo’s Office Hobbled Ethics Inquiries by Moreland Commission,” Mr. Cuomo has been on the defensive.

Questions raised by the Times article are not new. Many emerged immediately in the wake of Mr. Cuomo’s decision in late March to disband the commission. But the Times reporters probed deeper than others have. They found that “while the governor now maintains he had every right to monitor and direct the work of a commission he had created, many commissioners and investigators saw the demands as politically motivated interference that hamstrung an undertaking that the governor had publicly vowed would be independent.”

Mr. Cuomo and his office have not been reticent in defending actions taken by the governor and top aides. His office provided a 13-page response to questions posed by Times reporters, and Mr. Cuomo devoted much of a Monday news conference in Buffalo to the subject. But contradictions in these statements only created more confusion.

His office to the Times reporters: “Your fundamental assertion is that the Commission was independent. It wasn’t. … A commission appointed by and staffed by the executive cannot investigate the executive. It is a pure conflict of interest and would not pass the laugh test.”

Mr. Cuomo to reporters at the Buffalo news conference: “It was 100 percent independent. … I never said it couldn’t investigate me. I never said that.”

An investigation now being conducted by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara ultimately may determine what went on with the Moreland Commission and whether improprieties occurred. But it’s already plain as day that something billed as an effort to restore public trust has had the opposite effect.

8/1/2014 (c) 2014 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.


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