Double talk from Cuomo on ‘Billion indictments

Reporting, analysis and commentary
by Jim Heaney, editor of Investigative Post

Gov. Andrew Cuomo obviously believes the best defense is a good offense.

The governor came to town Friday, fresh off the indictment of three of his close associates and two of his major campaign contributors and attempted to claim victory. He told a gathering at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery that Buffalo is booming and announced a second phase of the Buffalo Billion program is coming as soon as Howard Zemsky figures out what it should involve.

In short, Cuomo tried to change the topic. Only after his remarks before a sympathetic audience at the art gallery did he address the indictments in a press conference with reporters.

He kind of said the right thing in discussing the criminal conduct of his subordinates spelled out in the subpoena, at one point saying “the complaint spelled out a very disturbing and reprehensible story of possible misdeeds.” But his responses struck me as mechanical and detached, as though he was discussing misdeeds in the abstract.

When asked if he had any regrets over his handling of the Buffalo Billion, Cuomo said no. Really?

Also noteworthy was his refusal to criticize Alain Kaloyeros, and, in fact, Cuomo praised him for his work developing a nanotechnology sector in Albany. Not what you would expect, considering Kaloyeros’ criminal behavior as documented in indictments issued by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara and State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

Cuomo also made a couple of statements that were flat-out false.

He contended Kaloyeros and Co. were following SUNY procurement procedures in awarding contracts to developers. In fact, as Charlotte Keith documented this week, the SUNY Polytechnic Institute failed to follow either SUNY or state procurement procedures. Instead, they kind of made things up as they went along –  frequently to the benefit of Cuomo campaign contributors.

The fault lies not with SUNY procedures, but Cuomo’s willingness to allow Kaloyeros and Co. to operate in a rogue fashion. Then again, the Cuomo administration has long demonstrated an unwillingness to play by the rules.

At one point in the press conference, I asked Cuomo if he ever picked up the phone and asked Kaloyeros whether there was any truth to the allegations of bid rigging that Investigative Post first reported on nearly two years ago. He mumbled something about not wanting to interfere in an ongoing investigation, but we raised these questions long before the U.S. Attorney swung into action.

Cuomo would have us believe that three of his closest associates took actions that resulted in the awarding of state contracts to two of his largest campaign contributors and he knew nothing about it. Perhaps he is telling the truth. Perhaps.

To top it off, Cuomo, in his speech and again in his remarks to reporters, proclaimed that Buffalo is a “model” of economic revival that cities across the nation are trying to emulate.

What a bunch of hooey.

The fact is, job growth in our region, while improving, lags behind the rest of the nation. Poverty in the City of Buffalo is increasing. Downtown Buffalo has one of the highest office vacancy rates it’s had in years.

A model for others to emulate? Hardly.

Nor are Cuomo’s economic development policies anything to emulate. Not with the corruption documented in Thursday’s indictments. Not in the huge sums of money Cuomo is spending to lure companies to locate here. Not with the risky technologies and financially unstable companies he is investing taxpayer dollars in.

Rather than putting his pedal to the metal in an effort to garner favorable press, the governor ought to be rethinking his approach to economic development. Some soul searching regarding ethics is in order, as well.