Editorial Roundup: New York

Jamestown Post-Journal. August 28, 2021.

Editorial: Hochul Has Only Partially Opened Door On Nursing Home Transparency

Gov. Kathy Hochul has done the right thing — quickly — in acknowledging the additional 12,000 COVID deaths in New York.

But it is only the first step in untangling the tangled web of what happened in the state’s nursing homes last year. Now that Hochul has shone a light on one of former Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s worst-kept secrets, it’s time for Hochul to allow a light to be shone on secrets that could help prevent thousands of deaths in the future by approving an Empire Center for Public Policy FOIL request denied by Cuomo’s Health Department on Cuomo’s final day in office.

“One of our FOILs sought details behind the higher death toll of 55,000–but DOH denied it on Monday afternoon, during the closing hours of the Cuomo administration. Rather than providing an explanation, they directed us to the limited data already available through the state’s data portal, which counts only confirmed deaths in hospitals, nursing homes and adult-care facilities. This is unacceptable,” Bill Hammond, Empire Center senior fellow, said in a statement.

The Empire Center has filed 60 Freedom of Information Law requests in hopes of revealing a clearer picture of the state’s COVID-19 response. Less than 10 have been granted.

Hochul has said she will be more transparent than Cuomo — though that isn’t really setting a high bar. If transparency is truly a hallmark of her administration, then the new governor will direct the state Health Department and other state agencies to release the records — if they exist — that have been requested by the Empire Center and other watchdog groups.

If Hochul wants people to trust the state when it comes to pandemic guidance, then the state must be open and honest with the public about missteps over the past year.

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Dunkirk Evening Observer. August 28, 2021.

Editorial: NEW YORK STATE: More light needed on death numbers

Gov. Kathy Hochul has done the right thing — quickly — in acknowledging the additional 12,000 COVID deaths in New York.

But it is only the first step in untangling the tangled web of what happened in the state’s nursing homes last year. Now that Hochul has shone a light on one of former Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s worst-kept secrets, it’s time for Hochul to allow a light to be shone on secrets that could help prevent thousands of deaths in the future by approving an Empire Center for Public Policy FOIL request denied by Cuomo’s Health Department on Cuomo’s final day in office.

“One of our FOILs sought details behind the higher death toll of 55,000 — but DOH denied it on Monday afternoon, during the closing hours of the Cuomo administration. Rather than providing an explanation, they directed us to the limited data already available through the state’s data portal, which counts only confirmed deaths in hospitals, nursing homes and adult-care facilities. This is unacceptable,” Bill Hammond, Empire Center senior fellow, said in a statement.

The Empire Center has filed 60 Freedom of Information Law requests in hopes of revealing a clearer picture of the state’s COVID-19 response. Less than 10 have been granted.

Hochul has said she will be more transparent than Cuomo — though that isn’t really setting a high bar. If transparency is truly a hallmark of her administration, then the new governor will direct the state Health Department and other state agencies to release the records — if they exist — that have been requested by the Empire Center and other watchdog groups.

If Hochul wants people to trust the state when it comes to pandemic guidance, then the state must be open and honest with the public about missteps over the past year.

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Auburn Citizen. August 29, 2021.

Editorial: New York state government finally moving in the right direction

In a sign that New York state government has returned to a level of basic competency, the governor and the leaders of the Legislature are speaking again.

And it couldn’t happen at a more crucial time.

The official state of emergency that gave the office of the governor special powers to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic expired in June. The reality, especially in the past month as the virus’s Delta variant has surged, is that the emergency is far from over.

To deal with the current pandemic issues, the Legislature needs to get back to Albany as soon as possible for a special session. And lawmakers need to work with Gov. Kathy Hochul to pass pandemic-related bills that she will sign into law.

The good news is that Hochul is working this weekend with Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie to get a special session scheduled next week. Such planning should have taken place weeks ago, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo had no interest in doing anything but try to save his crumbling political career. Now, thankfully, he’s gone.

The driver for the special session now being planned is the expiring state eviction moratorium. A U.S. Supreme Court decision that nullified a federal moratorium brought additional urgency to the matter.

On this issue, we urge the Legislature and governor to come up with a limited extension that ties its expiration to a deadline for paying out all of the rental assistance funding that has largely been bound up by Albany’s notorious bureaucracy.

The eviction moratorium, however, can’t be the only matter tackled in a special session. The governor and the Legislature need to take a hard look at other COVID-19 measures. Some of them, such as mask, testing and vaccine mandates, may be unpopular. But this is a time for elected leaders to govern, not evade tough decisions.

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Advance Media New York. August 27, 2021.

Editorial: Gov. Hochul starts strong with emphasis on ethics, transparency

Gov. Kathy Hochul took office Tuesday (Aug. 25), promising New Yorkers she will change the culture of secrecy and unethical behavior in Albany and restore the public’s trust in state government. We look forward to concrete actions to back up those words.

After all, Andrew Cuomo said the same thing when he took office 10 years ago. We all know how that ended.

Hochul is starting off on the right foot. In her first address as governor, Hochul said her No. 1 priority is managing the COVID-19 pandemic, getting kids back to school safely and distributing vaccine booster shots when approved.

Ethics also are a high priority. After the Cuomo scandal, the governor pledged to create a new culture of accountability. On the enforcement side, she can create independent watchdogs that are not beholden to the state’s political leaders.

The governor also promised “a new era of transparency” in her administration.

In that spirit, one of Hochul’s first acts as governor was to change the way the state reports deaths from COVID-19. Under Cuomo, the state’s official death toll reported COVID deaths confirmed by a lab. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention counts both confirmed and suspected COVID deaths. The change bumped New York’s death count up by 12,000, to roughly 55,400. The Cuomo administration reported the higher number but emphasized the lower one in daily communications and briefings. New Yorkers now have a fuller picture of the pandemic’s toll.

Hochul said she would issue an executive order mandating in-person ethics and sexual harassment training for all state employees. The ethics training is new. Sexual harassment training was mandated by Cuomo (no small irony there) but it was offered online and thus vulnerable to cheating. Not anymore.

Hochul also directed her counsel to expedite all Freedom of Information Law requests as quickly as possible. The Cuomo administration was notorious for sitting on FOIL requests for months, even years, openly flouting the letter and spirit of the law and keeping vital information out of public view. The governor also will order state agencies to review their compliance with open government laws and to publicly report their findings.

Next, Hochul must do something about the state’s weak ethics police.

She and the state Legislature should scrap the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) and replace it with an independent watchdog that will bark.

JCOPE allowed Cuomo to make a $5 million COVID book deal without even a vote of the commission — a decision it is reconsidering now that Cuomo is out of power. That alone speaks volumes about the former governor’s sway.

JCOPE also voted Thursday to allow the state Attorney General to investigate a leak of confidential information to Cuomo about his longtime associate Joe Percoco — who is now in jail for taking bribes. The state Inspector General, an anti-corruption investigator appointed by the governor, already decided there was nothing improper there. But she never even interviewed key players, including Cuomo.

Remember, it fell to former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara to make corruption cases against former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos. And it took Attorney General Letitia James to uncover the real number of nursing home deaths from COVID and to investigate the sexual harassment allegations that led to Cuomo’s resignation.

The AG also could be part of the solution to corruption in Albany.

Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick was co-chair of Cuomo’s Moreland Commission on Public Corruption. The commission is back in the news as another victim of the former governor’s bullying tactics. Fitzpatrick says Cuomo’s inner circle tried, and failed, to meddle in the commission’s investigations. Cuomo disbanded it before it could issue a final report.

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Albany Times Union. August 31, 2021.

Editorial: Mr. Cuomo’s millions

THE ISSUE: Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo left office with $18 million in campaign cash.

THE STAKES: There must be stricter rules on how political contributions are used.

Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo resigned from office in disgrace, but there are 18 million reasons to believe he will remain a force in state politics.

His campaign war chest, presumably amassed for an attempt to win a fourth term in office, is the largest among state politicians, and New York law gives Mr. Cuomo far too much leeway on how to use it.

In fact, a recent Politico report says Mr. Cuomo intends to use the $18 million “to mount a campaign of retribution against his perceived political enemies,” including the woman who replaced him — Gov. Kathy Hochul, his former lieutenant governor — and Democrats who called for him to resign after sexual harassment allegations. The money, in other words, will become a sort of vengeance fund.

We very much doubt that most of Mr. Cuomo’s donors would want their contributions used that way, but they have little recourse. Sure, they can ask for their money back, as state Sen. Liz Kruger urged them to do, but Mr. Cuomo is under no obligation to honor such requests.

Nor does he seem inclined to voluntarily return the money, as other disgraced politicians forced from office, including former Gov. Eliot Spitzer and former Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, have done. Refunding the money would be the right and honorable thing to do, but as the many scandals swirling around Mr. Cuomo illustrate, he is often disinclined to behave by the ethical standards most New Yorkers would prefer.

Under state law, the former governor can use the money to back other candidates or run attack ads, allowing him to wield considerable political influence. Mr. Cuomo can also use the money to pay his legal bills, to rehabilitate his image or, as he has already done, to hire a spokesman. He can even use the money for travel and for other expenses that could be tied, however loosely, to his political past or future.

It shouldn’t be so. Donors gave the money to Mr. Cuomo to wage campaigns, and state law should require that it be used for that purpose. Since the former governor has no interest in running for office again, according to the spokesman, Richard Azzopardi, who is being paid from the war chest, Mr. Cuomo should have no use for the money.

This isn’t just about Mr. Cuomo. Ms. Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat, notes that his relatively free rein with his war chest is another example of New York’s weak campaign finance regulation, showing why new and tougher laws are needed. We’ve argued in the past for campaign and fundraising seasons to be more limited, and for candidates with unused campaign funds to relinquish them, either to the donors, to charity, or to a special fund to help cover the cost of public financing of campaigns.

Politicians — including disgraced governors — shouldn’t be able to use campaign cash for personal purposes, including personal vengeance. Cleaning up this system should be part of Ms. Hochul’s stated goal of fixing an ethically compromised state government.

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