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Cuomo attacks MTA contractors, but still takes their money

New York politicians are full of contradictions – the Assembly passes campaign finance reform one year, then doesn’t have the votes the next; commissions say we need ranked choice voting in primary and special elections, but for some reason not in the general.

But rarely have those contradictions been clearer than in last week’s Times article about Governor Cuomo’s large donors and the MTA contracts they received.

On the surface, Cuomo seems to share his constituents’ rage towards the MTA bureaucracy, going as far as to slam contractors and consulting firms for having multimillion-dollar contracts with the MTA. What goes unsaid, however, is the fact that his campaign has benefitted from the same donors he insults, having recently hosted an intimate fundraiser for his 2018 re-election. When asked about these conflicting activities in an interview with the New York Times, the governor waffled, saying not all contractors are problematic and that he didn’t know the names of everyone who donated. 

But the contradictions don’t end there. Last November, then-MTA-chairman Joe Lhota resigned from his position; both Lhota and Cuomo (his appointer) said the former was simply moving on. Activists suspected that the resignation was in fact due to Lhota’s numerous conflicts of interest, such as working at Madison Square Garden, a major MTA contractor, while simultaneously serving as the chair. It turns out the activists were right: Politico obtained a letter last week showing that the Joint Commission on Public Ethics had in fact written Lhota informing him that his conflicts were illegal under state law.

A few things that can (and should) happen to prevent these issues in the future: restrictions on donations to politicians from companies with business before the state, public financing of elections to diminish the impact of large donations, and stricter enforcement of existing ethics rules.

In other news…

  • The Times Union has an excellent breakdown of Manhattan Democratic Party Chairman Keith Wright’s ethics violations and just how commonplace they are. State officials are banned from lobbying for two years after they leave office, but Wright still worked at a lobbying firm during that time, and registered as a lobbyist as soon as the ban was up. Even worse, it appears likely that he was lobbying during the banned period. Unfortunately, Wright’s not the only former official engaging in such activities: New NY Republican Party chairman Nick Langworthy did the exact same while Erie County chair. As TU puts it: “Are [voters] getting the best in political candidates, or the best political endorsements people can afford to buy from political leaders? And we wonder, too, if lawmakers are voting in the interests of their constituents and communities, or the financial interests of political leaders and those who pay for their influence?”
  • Good news if you’re a mother thinking about running for office! You can now use campaign funds to cover childcare services.
  • RepresentUs NY members were quoted several times in the NYC Charter Revision Commission’s final report of 2019 making a case for ranked choice voting. A special shoutout goes to Common Cause New York, which led the charge and provided key analysis about when and where we should start implementing RCV.

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