Cornered by the press into admitting that gubernatorial aide Lawrence Schwartz never left Albany, despite Cuomo administration assertions to the contrary, an indignant Governor Cuomo on Monday attacked the press.
By LOUIS FLORES
Governor Andrew Cuomo (D-New York) sternly denounced as "garbage" a bombshell report by the columnist Fredric Dicker of The New York Post, which reported that former gubernatorial secretary Lawrence Schwartz was still collecting his $181,560 annual salary through a temporary position specially created for him, even though it was announced on January 11 that Mr. Schwartz would be replaced by William Mulrow.
Governor Cuomo insulted Mr. Dicker's column, saying, in part, that, "the entire story was really garbage," according to a report published by Nick Reisman in the State of Politics blog of Governor Cuomo's response.
In remarks made on Monday, Governor Cuomo clarified that Mr. Schwartz was placed into a temporary position, identified by Mr. Dicker as "Dir of the NY Off," so that he could be paid his unused vacation and personal time.
In a separate statement, one of Governor Cuomo's spokespersons, Richard Azzopardi, added to a sense of ambiguity surrounding Mr. Schwartz's temporary position by providing seemingly contradictory information.
"Larry is using accrued vacation time. Even so, he is coming into the office almost every day to assist in the transition — something he doesn’t have to do, but is in order to ensure a smooth transfer. This began Feb. 2 and will end in early March," Mr. Azzopardi wrote in an e-mail published in a report by Casey Seiler in The Times Union.
Mr. Azzopardi's e-mail concluded with an hominem attack on Mr. Dicker.
"These facts are in contrast to the fiction attributed to ‘sources’ that appeared in this morning’s New York Post. There are liars. There are damn liars. Then there is Fred Dicker," Mr. Azzopardi wrote.
The contradiction between Governor Cuomo's claim that Mr. Schwartz was being paid for unused vacation time and Mr. Azzopardi's claim that Mr. Schwartz was working "almost every day" sounded incongruent to some.
"They don't have their story straight," Assemblymember Steve McLaughlin (R-Rensselaer) told Progress Queens, adding, "One of them is not telling the truth."
The controversy over Mr. Schwartz's continued employment by New York State represents another example in a series of controversies where the Cuomo administration violates its duty to be transparent to voters, some said. On January 11, when Governor Cuomo's office announced that Mr. Mulrow would replace Mr. Schwartz, the Cuomo administration said that Mr. Schwartz would depart for the "private sector."
Mr. Dicker's revelation showed that that was not what happened.
Assemblymember McLaughlin, who has been a vocal critic of ethical shortcomings of the Cuomo administration, told Progress Queens that Governor Cuomo typically waits until he has been caught and exposed for making a misrepresentation of truth before answering his critics, and that, once he usually does, "Cuomo's response is to classlessly attack the media in a really venomous way."
A previous example of that pattern, Assemblymember McLaughlin said, was how Governor Cuomo disbanded the Moreland Commission. When Governor Cuomo was criticised for prematurely ending the corruption fighting work of the panel, Governor Cuomo responded by saying, "It’s my commission. My subpoena power, my Moreland Commission. I can appoint it, I can disband it. I appoint you, I can un-appoint you tomorrow," according to a report of the exchange between Governor Cuomo and the editorial board of Crain's New York Business.
Still yet another prior example of that pattern, Assemblymember McLaughlin said, was when Governor Cuomo disbanded a controversial nonprofit lobbying group, the Committee to Save New York. The only nuance in that example was that the group disbanded before it could be subject to disclosing its campaign contributors ; therefore, it did not become legally problematic for Governor Cuomo on account of its early dissolution.
(The Committee to Save New York had been raising undisclosed funds from big business interests, real estate developers, and the gambling industry to pay for television advertisements to further Governor Cuomo's political agenda. One of the gambling interests, which contributed to the Committee to Save New York, was Genting New York, which was reported to have contributed $400,000, according to a report published by The New York Times.)
The press office for Governor Cuomo did not answer on Monday a request made by Progress Queens to interview Mr. Lawrence. With today's request, the governor's press office has denied four consecutive requests made by Progress Queens to interview Mr. Schwartz.
A request for investigation
On Facebook, Assemblymember McLaughlin raised the specter that the temporary position created for Mr. Schwartz could be tantamount to a "no-show job." In an interview with Progress Queens, Assemblymember McLaughlin described the temporary position as a "nonsense job," asking if New York State needed for Mr. Schwartz to serve as the director for the New York office now, then who was in that position before, and what was that person getting paid.
In his interview with Progress Queens, Assemblymember McLaughlin further raised the issue of whether a state investigator would probe the circumstances of the temporary position created for Mr. Schwartz. In Assemblymember McLaughlin's view, he said that the temporary position created for Mr. Schwartz could be used by Governor Cuomo to keep Mr. Schwartz "happy" and "quiet," a similar concern raised by Mr. Dicker in his column, when Mr. Dicker wrote that Governor Cuomo was extending Mr. Schwartz's employment by New York State in "order to help Larry out at a time when Larry could possibly do the governor a whole lot of damage," according to one of Mr. Dicker's sources.
Government reform activists consider Mr. Schwartz as a potential legal liability for Governor Cuomo, given reports of federal investigations into charges of obstruction of justice by the Cuomo administration. One of the key witnesses in the investigation is Mr. Schwartz.
A request was sent by Progress Queens to the press office of Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli (D-New York), asking if his office would either investigate the nature of the temporary position created for Mr. Schwartz or refer a probe to the office of the state inspector general or the state attorney general. If any response is received from Comptroller DiNapoli's office, such response will be reflected in a future update.
It is not known whether Comptroller DiNapoli or Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D-New York) would have the political will to investigate Governor Cuomo for wrong-doing. In the fallout of the reported interference with, and premature closure of, the Moreland Commission, it was shown that district attorneys and state investigators took no action to hold the Cuomo administration accountable over these complaints, revealing, in the end, that the sole prosecutorial office with the courage and independence to hold senior Albany officials accountable for misconduct to be the U.S. Attorney's Office for New York's southern district, headed by Preet Bharara. The U.S. Attorney for New York's western district is William Hochul, who is perhaps too conflict to probe the Cuomo administration, since he is husband of Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul (D-New York).
The potential that Mr. Schwartz could become a witness against the Cuomo administration has been undermined, some government reform activists say, by an unusual arrangement made by Governor Cuomo to indemnify state employees of the costs of legal representation during the federal investigation.
A lack of transparency
There is no way for voters to know which state employees are being indemnified by Governor Cuomo's campaign committee. A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's Office for New York's southern district would not identify the legal counsel representing state employees before the U.S. Attorney's Office. A source with the New York State Board of Elections said that campaign committees are not required to file documentation for expenditures, meaning, that the New York State Board of Elections does not see legal bills paid for by Governor Cuomo's campaign committee. The lack of documentation means that there are no public documents that could be requested from the New York State Board of Elections. A request made by Progress Queens for the identities of the state employees being indemnified by Governor Cuomo's campaign committee was sent to Elkan Abramowitz, the attorney hired by Governor Cuomo's campaign committee, to represent the Governor's office before the U.S. Attorney's Office. If any information is received in response to this request, such information will be provided in a future update.
A history of controversy
Mr. Schwartz has been connected to several controversies over the last 30 years.
Mr. Schwartz was spared implication in the 1987 indictments of several state officials, including former State Senator Manfred Ohrenstein (D-Manhattan), Mr. Schwartz's former boss, surrounding a scandal of the creation of no-show legislative jobs. Mr. Schwartz participated in vetting the bungled bidding process involving Aqueduct Entertainment Group, LLC, to operate a racino at Aqueduct Racetrack in South Ozone Park, Queens. Mr. Schwartz oversaw the final throes of the NYC Off Track Betting Corp., before its liquidation, in a move that some government reform activists say was made to increase the value of the Aqueduct racino contract that was eventually awarded to Genting New York, one of the large contributors to the Committee to Save New York. Finally, Mr. Schwartz was a central administration figure to have reportedly interfered in the corruption-fighting work of the Moreland Commission, before its premature demise, according to a bombshell report published by The New York Times.
Before Mr. Schwartz's present employment was identified by Mr. Dicker's report, government reform activists had been storming social media in an effort to identify which private sector company had hired Mr. Schwartz. For weeks, activists had taken to Twitter, for example, using the #WhereisLarrySchwartz hashtag, to pressure the mainstream media and Cuomo administration officials to divulge where Mr. Schwartz was being employed. As Mr. Dicker's report revealed, Mr. Schwartz had never left Governor Cuomo's office.