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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Amid scandals, Cuomo seeks electoral changes

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. Credit: AP

Elected officials and candidates are scrambling to sound like high-minded reformers following the latest round of public corruption indictments.

Most of these self-proclaimed change agents are guided, as always, by their political agendas.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who happens to come out of Sen. Charles Schumer's office, said last week that "the public corruption crisis in New York is more than a prosecutor's problem" -- and that pay-to-play culture endures.

Bharara's words posed something of a public-relations quandary for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. He has passed the halfway point in his elected term, and his days as the corruption-fighting state attorney general are a fading memory.

Cuomo and his administration are blameless and uninvolved in the alleged actions that have put three state lawmakers, a New York City councilman, two Republican officials and several businessmen in criminal trouble. But Cuomo and company are also aware that the state's executive and legislative branches become rolled together in the public mind as part of "that Albany mess."

Famously aggressive about appearances, Cuomo reacts with new talk of electoral reforms. Problems, he suggests, lie of course in domains outside his own -- New York City, the legislature, other party organizations.

This state's unusual method of party cross-endorsement comes up in the case involving Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Hollis) who allegedly tried to buy party authorizations to run for mayor as a Republican. "Something has to be done" about the relevant law, Cuomo says. He speaks from the pinnacle of the state's dominant Democratic Party, not dependent upon the cross-endorsements that are the meal ticket of minor parties such as Independence, Working Families and the Conservatives.

And in a bid to back prosecutors even if he isn't now one of them, Cuomo on Tuesday proposed what he described as an expansion in the power of county district attorneys to probe corruption and increase penalties for relevant types of crime.

The born-again reform fad reaches its frenzy in the rhetoric of the mayor's race. Candidates have made various proposals based on charges that Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Bayside) essentially sold a so-called member item. Not coincidentally, their presumed rival, Democratic mayoral front-runner Christine Quinn, the council speaker, has power over these member-item grants by individual lawmakers.

It became Quinn's turn to tout reform yesterday when she denounced a superPAC's launching of the first attack ad in the mayoral race -- warning that it would undermine "the most progressive campaign-finance system in the country." Not coincidentally, the PAC, "New York City is Not for Sale 2013," opposes her mayoral bid.

Rival candidates reacted in kind. Republican George McDonald, for example, wrote to Quinn: "It's a sad statement that having rigged the rules in your favor, you now want to only abide by those rules that support your candidacy."

For electoral sloganeers, reform is one of those magic terms -- a weapon, really, to be used quickly against a rival as desired.

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