Cuomo must clean up the cesspool in Albany

By Tom Allon

If you do the same thing over and over and over again and expect a different result each time, that is called insanity.

So it is clear that during the last decade, our city and state government have gone insane.

Last week’s federal complaint against nine people in state government and its vendors is once again a sad spectacle that will only deepen the public’s already low regard for public officials.

Put aside the insane and dispiriting race for president, and for a minute ponder our current state of affairs in New York.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a take-no-prisoners executive who started out so promisingly in 2010 when he miraculously pushed thru a same-sex marriage bill with bipartisan support (after delivering the first on-time budget in years), is now stigmatized by the indictment of his close aide and long-time friend and a group of prominent upstaters who thought they could feast off the governor’s “Buffalo Billion” initiative.

Cuomo began his tenure six years ago vowing to clean up the cesspool of corruption in Albany. Instead, the waters have risen and are now washing up all around him.

It is extremely unlikely that the governor himself engaged in misconduct or was even aware that his closest aide was carrying out a Sopranos-like scheme to enrich himself and others.

But the governor has missed numerous opportunities the past six years to clean up our government and eliminate (or at least mitigate) the chances that corruption will flourish.

The first, and probably most disheartening, miss was when Cuomo did not follow through on his pledge to implement nonpartisan redistricting. Why is this important? Because it is the fundamental underpinning of good government and true democracy.

As the late Mayor Ed Koch summed it up so perfectly: “In a democracy, voters should pick their leaders. Not leaders should pick their voters.”

Why Cuomo abandoned his pledge to fix this remains a mystery. He should now redouble his efforts to make that a priority.

In addition, the governor needs to lead the charge for dramatic campaign finance reform. The way the system works now, people and companies that donate to candidates in essence own a piece of them. When elected, these leaders need to pay back these supporters in order to keep the campaign dollars flowing.

Huuuuge problem, as one presidential aspirant would call it.

Getting big money and corporations out of politics to drain the cesspool is long overdue. These may be draconian, but the governor should champion a number of bold reforms:

• Institute campaign finance limits and matching funds like the city has. The cap on donations from one person should be no more than $500 and it should be matched by a 6-1 program.

• No fund-raising in Albany or New York during the legislative session from January to June.

• Eliminate the L.L.C. loophole that allows one corporation to create multiple entities in order to circumvent campaign donation limits.

• If you have done business with the state or city in past five years, you may not donate. This would go for lobbyists and vendors so that we do not create a class of people who have unfair access to our leaders.

• Create an office of Chief Integrity Officer in state government. Independent of the governor, it will vet all appointees, audit the awarding of contracts, and establish ethical guidelines for elected and appointed leaders. Put someone with a lifetime of credibility in charge of it, such as former Lt. Governor Dick Ravitch.

• Institute term limits for state legislators. A decade is enough. Holding power for too long corrupts.

These are just the tip of the iceberg of what is needed to restore faith in our government.

Will our leaders finally listen or will they continue to watch the cesspool draw closer and closer to their knees?

Tom Allon, president of City & State NY, was a Republican and Liberal Party-backed mayoral candidate in 2013 before he left to return to the private sector. Reach him at tallon@cityandstateny.com.

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