ALBANY — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s hiring of 13 former staffers from the Obama administration, Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid and other national campaigns is costing state taxpayers $1.5 million a year, state records show.
Some of the hires are being paid not through the governor’s office budget but through state authorities and other entities considered “off budget.”
The top hires include Maria Comella, whose hiring as Cuomo’s chief of staff was announced in April. She is being paid $175,000 a year, according to records obtained under the state Freedom of Information Law. Comella initially had been hired as a consultant to Cuomo to help shape this year’s agenda after working for Republicans in presidential races, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, President George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election, as well as Rudy Giuliani and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).
Other hires include Andrew Tillman, a former speechwriter for President Barack Obama’s chief of staff. Tillman is being paid $80,000 a year in his state job writing speeches for Cuomo. Jen Darley, who was the national lead advance staffer for the Hillary for America Campaign, is now paid $110,000 as Cuomo’s assistant director of executive operations, records show.
Such hiring of staff from outgoing administrations or failed campaigns isn’t uncommon. Cuomo’s hirings come as he prepares his 2018 re-election campaign and as some supporters urge him to run for president in 2020.
Cuomo announced 12 of the hires in a March 21 news release that also included the promotion of state staffers and the hiring of others from the private sector. He announced Comella’s hiring on April 25.
At the time he announced the hires to reporters, he didn’t include salary details. Two spokesmen for Cuomo did not provide the salaries after several inquiries by telephone and email.
A written request by Newsday under the state Freedom of Information Law yielded a response that stated an update would be provided by this Wednesday. Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi, however, provided the salaries on May 8.
He said previous requests “slipped through the cracks.”
“This is a record that must be held by the employing agency,” said Robert Freeman of the state Committee on Open Government. “Our advice has been that if the record is clearly a public record and easy to find, there is no valid reason for unnecessarily delaying disclosure . . . I can’t say it’s not heard of, but because the provision has been part of the law since 1974, agencies are generally quick to respond.”
“It’s a lot easier to maneuver if people are unable to ask questions about decision-making,” said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group. “It’s a lot harder to ask questions about decision-making if you don’t have the information.”
“Salary information is readily and publicly available through several means,” Azzopardi said, “including the comptroller’s office, and certainly has been provided by this office by request.”
Not all of the salaries, however, were immediately available through the comptroller’s office. Some of the hires are being paid not through the executive chamber’s budget — which is flat for the 2017-18 fiscal year — but through state authorities and other entities. Those salaries wouldn’t have to be made public for months, in annual reports, according to the comptroller’s office.
“There’s no point in playing coy with public information,” said Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause/NY.
Azzopardi said paying top aides through agencies and authorities is common practice because their work is related to those units.
“We always aim to hire the best and brightest and many talented people were available,” Azzopardi said last week. “We’re proud they’re now part of Team Cuomo and will help us move New York forward.”