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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Tensions play out over development agency ads

New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli is seen

New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli is seen in this photo from Sept. 19, 2014. Photo Credit: AP

State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli recently smacked Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's business development program pretty hard.

DiNapoli staffers concluded, in a report issued May 11, that a $211 million contract for promotional advertising failed to show tangible results.

DiNapoli said Empire State Development's efforts to measure the ads' impact "were weak at best, leaving real questions about whether the results justify the cost."

As you might expect, the development corporation defended the ads as improving perceptions of the state and awareness of its programs -- and promptly approved $25 million more for these "Open for Business" commercials.

It cited a private consultant's findings to buttress its defense.

Beyond the details of these charges and responses, however, lies a political backdrop.

For one thing, DiNapoli nowadays stands on firm ground in his tense dealings with Cuomo and company.

Six months ago, on Election Day, the Democratic comptroller won 163,577 more votes statewide than the Democratic governor -- and a wider victory margin against his opponent.

On the day of their re-election, DiNapoli carried both Long Island counties; Cuomo won only Nassau.

As psychological perceptions go, this had to give the DiNapoli camp some kind of boost in its watchdog role.

DiNapoli's criticisms involving the administration's ads -- and its "Start-Up NY" program to grow businesses -- resonated with other Albany players.

After the audit's release, state Sen. Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore) and Assemb. Robin Schimminger (D-Kenmore) -- chairmen of their houses' economic development committees -- were quoted as voicing concerns about the program's strategies.

For those who follow such issues, the audit threatens to reinforce the claim -- voiced last year by Cuomo's Republican challenger, Rob Astorino -- that such ads amounted to pro-Cuomo hype.

DiNapoli's sharp skepticism of these "Open for Business" ads should come as no surprise.

In February -- the month after he and Cuomo were sworn in for their second elected terms -- the comptroller raised wider questions about Empire State Development programs.

The development corporation, he said, provides "minimal financial information for many of its 168 subsidiaries and limited public reporting on results of the economic development initiatives around the state."

Also, DiNapoli reported that as of fiscal year 2013-14, "nearly 57 percent of ESDC's reported employees were classified in a management role and 23 percent of all ESDC employees received total compensation of $100,000 or more."

The corporation responded by saying that it "regularly compiles and releases reports on its initiatives. Many of these are the direct result of increased transparency requirements enacted during the course of this administration."

This response, from corporation spokesman Jason Conwall, bitingly concluded that its officials "will be more than happy to direct them to the section of our website where these reports are located."

Expect more of the same as the elected terms of both Cuomo and DiNapoli roll on.


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