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Cuomo proposes new ethics plan for scandal-scarred state

ALBANY — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Wednesday said he wants to ensure that state contracts and grants aren’t steered to political donors and called on the State Legislature to adopt more ethics laws.

Cuomo said he would appoint a “chief procurement officer” to review all state contracts for any influence or favor by political donors. Cuomo also said his political campaign won’t accept donations from any company once a “request for proposal” is made public on a project until six months after the contract is awarded.

“Our state has suffered a few long years of seemingly endless scandals at all levels: county governments, city governments, legislative leaders in the Senate and Assembly, in the judiciary, the NYPD, and even in the executive,” Cuomo said. “This public trust and integrity issue must be addressed — directly and forthrightly. It is time for action, not words.”

“When I was elected, I pledged to do my best to give you a government that works — that gets things done and in which you can trust,” Cuomo said. “But the agenda is unfinished. And honestly, no government that does not enjoy the trust of the governed can said to be a success.”

The duties of this new procurement job would be similar to those already assigned to Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, with whom Cuomo has feuded. DiNapoli has complained Cuomo and the Legislature have reduced his ability to audit some major spending projects.

Cuomo also called for the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, a board headed and staffed by his appointees, to be given “wide authority to root out conflicts of interest.” The governor, however, has opposed providing greater authority to state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to investigate corruption, although Cuomo had sought the same broader power when he was attorney general.

Cuomo’s statement comes after a former top aide, Joseph Percoco, and a longtime associate, lobbyist Todd Howe, were named in a federal corruption complaint. Percoco and Howe are accused of trying to enrich themselves through payments by companies that received big state contracts and tax breaks. Also named in the complaint was Alain Kaloyeros, former president the Polytechnic Institute of the State University of New York, who is accused of bid-rigging.

In October, a Newsday review of campaign contributors who donated $50,000 or more between 2010 and 2015 found that more than 30 construction and development companies, subsidiaries, their executives and their relatives have contributed nearly $4 million to Cuomo’s campaigns while the companies received $1 billion in state contracts, tax breaks and other benefits. Cuomo launched in 2011 a statewide building boom using public construction contracts to spur private-sector job growth. The Cuomo administration denied that any contracts or tax breaks were influenced by political donations.

“Some of this stuff is interesting and innovative,” Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group, said of Cuomo’s plan. “This is just a statement, so we have to see the details.”

But Horner noted the call for a chief procurement officer, whom Cuomo apparently would appoint, appears to conflict with the independent oversight the comptroller is supposed to provide. “The constitution spells that out,” Horner said. “There should be a review of all the cutbacks and reduction of powers and see what powers he needs to get back.”

Horner and other good-government groups have seen Cuomo make several ethics proposals, only to end up with what the advocates said were four mostly watered-down measures in compromises with the State Legislature.

“This is a strong statement and a nice sentiment, but the governor needs to step up and show he means business in a way that he never has before,” said Dick Dadey of Citizens Union.

Cuomo also called on the Legislature to enact public financing of political campaign, which has been blocked in the Republican-controlled Senate as a violation of free speech by political donors. Cuomo said “all elected officials — state and local — should be required to disclose all sources of income earned by themselves and their spouses.”

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