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Pols: Cuomo tells them No. 1 priority is ethics, everything else 'negotiable'

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo at a

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo at a cabinet meeting at the Capitol, on Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2015, in Albany. Credit: AP / Mike Groll

ALBANY - Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo told lawmakers at a private reception that ethics is his No. 1 priority this year and other contentious issues – school aid, teacher evaluations, and regional infrastructure projects – are negotiable, several legislators said.

Cuomo, a Democrat, has been hosting New York’s 213 state legislators in batches for informal events at the executive mansion, a few blocks from the State Capitol, as he has every year since taking office in 2011.

The governor has drawn a hard line on many high-profile topics this year. But at a recent meeting, Cuomo made it clear that enacting new ethics requirements in the wake of the arrest of ex-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was his top priority, said lawmakers who attended.

“It’s absolutely his No. 1 priority,” said one legislator. “We can negotiate everything else.”

A Cuomo aide declined to comment.

Silver (D-Manhattan) has been indicted for allegedly pocketing $4 million in a scheme that leveraged his office and hinged on lawmakers’ ability to earn outside income. Federal prosecutors claim Silver, a lawyer, received bribes, disguised as legal fees in exchange for steering state grants and legislation. He has pleaded not guilty.

Cuomo has proposed either outlawing or severely limiting outside income. The former would require changing legislators’ status from part-time to full-time. He’s also advocated more complete disclosure of outside sources of income and pension forfeiture of convicted lawmakers.  

He’s also sparring with lawmakers and activists on changing the teacher evaluation process, allocating school aid, raising the minimum wage and divvying up New York’s $5 billion share of a national banking settlement.

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