Cuomo: Corruption panel was a success

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announces his appointment for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announces his appointment for the Moreland Commission to investigate the State Legislature at Hofstra University Club in Hempstead on July 2, 2013. Photo Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

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ALBANY -- Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo battled back Monday in his first comments since he was accused of meddling in a corruption commission, declaring that the commission was a "phenomenal success."

Two commissioners also released statements supporting Cuomo's role in advising the Moreland Commission on Public Corruption. Meanwhile, Cuomo's political opponents hammered away, with Republican Rob Astorino comparing Cuomo to "a Mafia boss."

Speaking in Buffalo Monday, Cuomo denied doing anything inappropriate.

"Independence doesn't mean you get holed up in an ivory tower and don't talk to anyone," Cuomo said, a day after he was battered in several newspaper editorials. "So, of course, there were conversations. It would be unintelligent for them not to be."

He criticized news reports, including a lengthy article last week in The New York Times that used emails and interviews to report that Cuomo and his top aide, Lawrence Schwartz, had pressured the commission away from Cuomo's big real estate donors and the company that produces his TV ads.

"When you take snippets of conversation in a dialogue, you should really know where it winds up," Cuomo said. He noted commission co-chair William Fitzpatrick said he had decided not to issue some subpoenas based on his own legal judgment and had issued some subpoenas over Schwartz's objections.

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"Follow the movie to the conclusion," Cuomo said. "What happens at the end of the movie? Fitz says, 'I disagree with you, Larry. We're not going to do that.' Is the name of that movie 'Interference' or is the name of that movie 'Independence'? You named it 'Interference.' "

Some members of the Moreland Commission issued statements Monday.

"Frankly, for those who do not know me well, that suggestion [of interference] is absurd," wrote Fitzpatrick, the Republican district attorney of Onondaga County. He said the governor offered only "advice and encouragement."

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Commission member Makau Mutua, dean of the University at Buffalo Law School, said, "I know there were disagreements about tactics and strategy within the commission -- about when to serve subpoenas, and so on.

"But I reject the view that Governor Cuomo interfered with the commission's work, or that he told the commission what to do," Mutua said. "I do not think that any commissioner would have allowed such a thing."

And Cuomo's father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, told the New York Daily News that "Andrew is as honest a politician as we have seen in New York."

"He's absolutely as straight as they come and as bright as they come, it seems to me," Mario Cuomo said. "That's enough for me."

Andrew Cuomo's political opponents aren't accepting the governor's explanation.

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"To suggest that he was suggesting to the commission members where they should go with an investigation is like a Mafia boss coming forward and saying that he wants to make a suggestion, an offer you can't refuse," Astorino, who is challenging Cuomo in this fall's election, said in Syracuse. "That clearly is intimidation."

Cuomo did not respond to the comment. But the Sons of Italy in America, based in Washington, said it was appalled and outraged. "Mr. Astorino's political aspirations and differences with the governor are no excuse for resorting to inappropriate, untrue and insinuating aspersions, which are harmful and undeserving not only to the governor, but to America's 26 million Italian Americans," said Philip Piccigallo, national executive director.

Meanwhile, Cuomo's challenger in a Democratic primary, Zephyr Teachout, is calling on the commission to continue.

Teachout, a Fordham Law professor who has written extensively on government corruption, said the commission is legally still in existence. Cuomo never issued an executive order to end it, Teachout said, so its members should act on the authority provided by Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman to continue investigating its cases, including Cuomo's role in the panel.

"They still have an obligation," she said Monday.

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