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ALBANY -- Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo Monday appointed Andrew Spano, who lost the Westchester County executive's office to Cuomo's Republican opponent, to the state Board of Elections.
As county executive, Spano's top deputy was Lawrence Schwartz, who is now Cuomo's chief of staff. The New York City suburbs from Westchester through Long Island are expected to be a major battleground in this year's governor's race.
"New Yorkers deserve a watchdog at the board that protects the integrity of our elections and ensures that the voice of the people is heard," Spano said.
Spano lost the Westchester County executive's office in 2009 to Republican Rob Astorino. Astorino is now challenging Cuomo for governor.
"We fully expect him to recuse himself on any matters involving our campaign," said Astorino spokeswoman Jessica Proud.
Spano will be one of four appointees -- two Democrats and two Republicans recommended by the parties -- on the board. He is expected to replace Evelyn Aquila, who is retiring from the $25,000-a-year, part-time job.
Cuomo's appointment to the part-time job drew renewed criticism for his latest attempt to clean up Albany's image of corruption in a pay-to-play culture. Good-government groups have said the record of the Board of Elections demands a new system no longer run by political party appointees.
"The state Board of Elections is a disaster," said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group. "Joining the board now is like being asked to take the helm of the Titanic after it hit the iceberg."
Cuomo struck an agreement March 31 with the State Legislature on a proposal to revamp the Board of Elections. Cuomo will soon appoint a new investigator with a staff who will also have a voting role on the board, which has been gridlocked by a split of Democrats and Republicans. As part of the agreement, Cuomo disbanded his Moreland Commission investigating corruption, a move criticized last week by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.
A commission co-chairman praised the panel's work in a 1,600-word defense published Monday in the Huffington Post.
"The 'paper tiger' days of the Board of Elections are over and we can begin to rebuild public trust," said William Fitzpatrick, the Onondaga County district attorney and co-chairman of the Moreland Commission. Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice was the other co-chair.
Fitzpatrick, a Republican, also acknowledged that the commission, which Cuomo said would be an independent watchdog on Albany, worked closely with Cuomo and negotiated directly with the legislature on proposed new corruption laws.
"As we were conducting the investigation on behalf of the governor and attorney general, the law required that we report to the governor's office and the attorney general's Office on a weekly basis and discuss our activities," Fitzpatrick said.
He emphasized that the co-chairs had to agree on subpoenas and investigations.