By Tony Farina, The Niagara Falls Reporter
As the political fur flies hot and heavy over allegations that Gov. Andrew Cuomo tampered with the anti-corruption Moreland Commission before shutting it down last spring, his father is coming to the defense of his son, telling the New York Daily News in a telephone interview on Monday that “Andrew is as honest a politician as we have seen in New York.”
Mario Cuomo’s defense of his son comes even as the GOP gubernatorial candidate played the mafia card in attacking Gov. Cuomo for offering the corruption panel an offer it couldn’t refuse.
Mario Cuomo, 82, who served as New York’s governor for three terms, jumped into the increasingly vicious political fray out of nowhere to defend his son, telling the Daily News “it will always be clear that he has been one of the most honest politicians we have ever had. I think that’s important….newspapers have opinions, but when you look very closely, he is just about as straight as they do come, and brighter than most.”
The elder Cuomo’s comments came as his son, the embattled governor, was in Buffalo defending himself against the controversy that has engulfed him since the New York Times reported last week that top Cuomo aide Larry Schwartz pressured the Moreland Commission to drop subpoenas to entities connected to the governor.
But as Cuomo was proclaiming that there was no interference with the anti-corruption panel he formed, his Republican opponent continued his blistering attacks on the governor across the state, and followed Cuomo to Buffalo where he released a 10-point plan to clean up Albany.
At his Buffalo news conference, his first public remarks on the growing controversy, Gov. Cuomo insisted there was no interference from his office with the corruption panel, only conversations, and that the commission was a great success.
“No one said they shouldn’t be talking to people or get advice or consultation from people,” he said. “They should be independent and the co-chair today says, ‘it was 100 percent independent. I made the decisions. Did I talk to people? Of course I talked to people. It would be unintelligent not to talk to people. But I made all the decisions’”
Cuomo’s comments followed the release earlier Monday of a three-page statement by Co-chair William Fitzpatrick, the Onondaga County district attorney, defending the commission and the governor’s handling of it.
But in Syracuse on Monday, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, the GOP candidate for governor, said of Cuomo’s defense that “to suggest he was suggesting to the commission members where they should go with an investigation is like a mafia boss coming forward and saying he wants to make a suggestion, an offer you can’t refuse.”
Astorino’s mafia comparison drew a strong rebuke from Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle, who like Cuomo and Astorino is an Italian-American. Morelle said Astorino’s “continued attempts to grab a headline have reached an all-time low. His comments are insulting and degrading to both the governor and a state that boasts a proud Italian-American heritage…”
Meanwhile, to add some more fire to the controversy, Erie County District Attorney Frank Sedita, III, a member of the Moreland Commission before it was disbanded, said in a statement reported in the Watertown Daily Times “we would not stand for any interference, and discussed a number of options, including resignation. The governor’s office agreed not to interfere with our work.” The resignation talk apparently came after the commission members heard that the governor’s office tried to block subpoenas from the panel.
Cuomo, with $35 million in his campaign war chest, about 10 times the amount that Astorino has raised, leads his opponent by 37 points in the latest polls, but there are reports tonight that the Moreland Commission controversy is helping Astorino raise money and has given the little-known candidate a lot to talk about in the coming weeks.
The U. S. attorney in Manhattan, Preet Bharara, has picked up the Moreland Commission files and is aggressively pursuing what he calls its “important and unfinished” work.
Several subpoenas have been issued to former staffers of State Sen. George Maziarz (R – Newfane), a powerful Niagara County political fixture, amid reports that Bharara is investigating $140,000 in un-itemized expenses over the last several years by Maziarz’s campaign committee, the most of a total of 28 senators who are reportedly on the U. S. attorney’s radar, all stemming from the Moreland Commission’s efforts. The commission’s files are now in the hands of the federal prosecutors under Bharara.
Gov. Cuomo came to Buffalo on Monday to announce that eight businesses will expand or locate in Western New York as a result of his tax-free START-UP NY initiative, creating an estimated 659 new jobs.
The governor, a master at handling the media, chose Buffalo to make his first public statements about the Moreland controversy, a stop he only announced on Sunday making it difficult for most of the Albany press corps to make it to Buffalo in time for the Monday morning event.
Shortly after the Cuomo show at UB’s south campus, Astorino held his own news conference at GOP headquarters on Main St., where he released a 10-point plan to clean up Albany.
The plan features term limits: eight years for statewide elected officials (two terms) and would limit state legislators to four terms, also eight years.
Other highlights include an independent state commission on public ethics and the loss of taxpayer-funded pensions for any elected official convicted of public corruption.