Cuomo: Guv's office plans no power grab

Governor Cuomo at Molloy College talking about his Governor Cuomo at Molloy College talking about his 2012-2013 budget and reform plan. (Feb. 2, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

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Dan Janison Melville. N.Y. Tuesday January 26, 2010. Daniel Janison,

Dan Janison has been a reporter at Newsday for 10 years, much of which was spent as a ...

With a strong political wind at his back, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo sometimes throws Albany's other players off balance.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

But, merits aside, some Capitol denizens these days see him as trying to expand his office's prerogatives in several areas.

Among the instances they'll cite: Cuomo's establishment of regional economic development councils guided by panels of governor's appointees; a high regulatory profile for the newly created Financial Services Department, and executive-budget language that seems to expand executive choices.

And Thursday, the new Joint Commission on Public Ethics, which has both legislative and executive branches under its jurisdiction, voted to take on Ellen Biben as its new executive director. Biben, a career prosecutor, made her mark as a key aide in Cuomo's attorney general office and has since served as his inspector general.

Firmly, Cuomo disputes any effort to bundle these actions into an "expansion" theory.

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"I'm trying to make the government work. Now, to the extent that my efforts to make the government work appear like I'm trying to empower the governor's office, or something like that, you know, maybe in some ways I am," he told Newsday editors and reporters Thursday. "To the extent that you've had an ineffective executive for many, many years, maybe basic competence appears as a conspiracy plot to you. I can't help you with that."

For specifics, he said Biben -- voted in overwhelmingly by the ethics panel's members -- would send a message that the committee is a "real" monitor of official conduct -- as did, he said, his selection of Janet DeFiore of Westchester, a sitting district attorney, for its chairmanship.

Biben's cases in the AG office included actions against pension fraud, the prosecutions of former Comptroller Alan Hevesi, Hevesi aide Hank Morris, and former state Sen. Pedro Espada, which is continuing, and work targeting legislative member items, Cuomo noted. "So there are some on the legislature who don't like her because of what she did, but that's her job," Cuomo said.

The role of Financial Services Commissioner Benjamin Lawsky, also with a prosecutorial background, who served as deputy counselor and special assistant to AG Cuomo, was shaped by legislation combining the state's former banking and insurance agencies, Cuomo noted. (Lawsky's nomination was unanimously approved in the Senate).

In his proposed budget, Cuomo includes provisions that have not been part of the usual year-to-year boilerplate, allowing him to shift functions from one agency to another. To the governor, that's really just a matter of "Management 101."

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"In the budget, you have agency budgets, and may want to, for example, consolidate all personnel functions. . . . Every agency buys their own cars. You want to consolidate, on a horizontal line, the purchasing function, the personnel function, the real-estate function," he said.

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