Gov. Kathy Hochul has said she'll seek changes in the way government and lobbying conduct are monitored and enforced. Specifically, she's looking to revamp the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, created under her predecessor, Andrew M. Cuomo.
Improving JCOPE’s transparency and impartiality would be welcome. Corruption scandals are perennial in Albany, as are proposed legislative fixes.
But while settling in, Hochul needs to get her own ethical house on firm ground — by resolving potential conflicts involving those close to her. Here are a few unique personal facts she confronts:
Her husband, William Hochul, the former U.S. attorney in Buffalo, is vice chairman and general counsel for the high-rolling gambling and hospitality company Delaware North, which until recently operated Jake's 58 casino in Islandia.
The new governor now has within her official domain the State Gaming Commission, which oversees all legal gambling in the state. In addition, Delaware North has $50 million worth of concession contracts with the Thruway Authority and state parks department, combined, which fall indirectly in the governor's sphere of influence.
So far, the governor's office has said Delaware North has an internal "firewall" that keeps William Hochul away from state government matters. But welcome assurances aren't enough. Gov. Hochul should draw a sharp, specific, and convincing line between her public duties and sources of family income — beyond the laws against crude self-dealing.
One rung down from Gov. Hochul in the hierarchy, top aide Karen Persichilli Keogh is married to Mike Keogh, a partner in the lobbying and communications firm Bolton-St. Johns, where he's part of a team representing clients like Google and Verizon. That's an awkward echo of the last administration; Giorgio DeRosa, the father of Keogh's predecessor as secretary to the governor, Melissa DeRosa, was and still is a leading partner at Bolton-St. Johns.
Christina Hochul, married to the governor’s son William Hochul III, is a director of federal policy at Biogen. The pharma company reportedly took part in a recent lobbying campaign in New York involving Alzheimer's research. There's no sign the governor's daughter-in-law lobbies state government or that any improper influence was obtained in prior administrations because of connections. But clarity is needed, and fortunately the current system gives Hochul at least one tool.
Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group, said: "The governor should request from JCOPE a formal advisory opinion on how to keep separate the work of the state from her family members who are lobbyists. Under the law, JCOPE cannot make their opinions public, but the governor can — and should."
We highly recommend that as an immediate step — for the Hochuls, the Keoghs, and other high-profile figures. After years of high-level Albany scandals involving the abuse of public clout for private gain, Hochul needs to issue the strongest possible assurances about the integrity of her administration right away.
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