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Economic council leader rebuts lawmakers’ charges as ‘unfair’

Stuart Rabinowitz, co-vice chair of the Long Island

Stuart Rabinowitz, co-vice chair of the Long Island regional economic council, criticized lawmakers' claims that council members are steering state money to their employers, or to groups with which they have ties. Above, Rabinowitz on April 10, 2013. Photo Credit: James Escher

A top leader of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Regional Economic Development Councils said recently that state lawmakers had wrongly questioned the integrity of council members across the state in “an unfair attack . . . supported by not one shred of evidence.”

The charge of “cronyism,” accusing council members of steering state money to their employers or to groups with which they have ties, “was completely unjustified and should have been avoided,” said Stuart Rabinowitz, co-vice chairman of the Long Island development council.

He added, “I have seen only the effort at the most integrity that you could possibly have” in the councils’ 6 1⁄2-year history. Rabinowitz also is president of Hofstra University.

Long Island’s 23-member council includes, in addition to Rabinowitz, top executives of businesses and not-for-profit groups, including the Long Island Association business group, Stony Brook University, Brookhaven National Laboratory and the Long Island Federation of Labor.

Rabinowitz’s comments on Thursday were in response to calls from a bipartisan group of lawmakers in Albany to require members of the development councils to fill out the same financial disclosure forms that other state officials complete, including lawmakers. Council members are not paid.

The effort has stalled in the Capitol, according to Cuomo aides, who requested anon ymity.

Members of the State Senate and Assembly, including some from Long Island, in February criticized the councils for “cronyism” because building projects with ties to council members have received state aid.

At least six members of the local council have links to projects that got state tax credits or grants after being endorsed by the council, records show. However, the state agencies that distribute the funds made the final determinations, not the council.

Rabinowitz said council members always recuse themselves from discussions and votes on projects that involve their businesses or institutions.

“We have followed this procedure since Day 1 . . . We have people who have recused themselves because they are worried about even the appearance of a conflict of interest,” he said.

The Long Island council has secured a total of $486.5 million for 569 projects since 2011. Previously, such aid was distributed by lawmakers through a controversial system of “member items,” with each lawmaker giving grants from state money put at their disposal.

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