There is a soap opera unfolding in New York State politics these days. Its origins date back to the turn of the 21st century, when then-Governor George Pataki (R-NY) was gearing up for reelection and one Andrew Cuomo, then-U.S. Secretary of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) was getting ready to challenge him on the democratic side.
At the time, Mr. Cuomo’s fortunes appeared to be pre-determined and a classic case of political legacy. His father is Mario M. Cuomo, governor of New York from 1983-1994 who became nationally known for delivering the legendary keynote speech at the 1984 Democratic National Convention. And his (Andrew) wife was Kerry Kennedy Cuomo, daughter of the late Senator Robert F. Kennedy. The die was cast and the younger Cuomo had visions of the Presidency of the United States by way of Albany.
This is the way it was all supposed to go down:
(For those not familiar with HUD, this federal agency funds much more than just public housing. It also provides monies to states, cities and counties for all types of economic development including funding to provide communities with resources to address a wide range of unique community development needs. The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) is also under its purview. In addition, the department helps fund hospitals, assisted living facilities and multi-family housing developments. It should also be noted that New York State and specifically New York City are among the largest HUD grantees in the country.)
And the trifecta would be complete. What happened next can best be described in the words of John Lennon, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”Instead, George W. Bush became the 43rd President and Michael Bloomberg; a Democrat-turned-Republican became the Mayor of New York City. And in the blink of an eye, not only were Andrew Cuomo and Charlie King out of a job, they were out of luck.
In 2002, Cuomo ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for Governor of New York, his running mate – Charlie King. Cuomo withdrew his name from consideration when it became clear that he could not beat the party’s favored candidate, then- NY State Comptroller H. Carl McCall. Mr. McCall would go on to lose to the Republican incumbent, George Pataki.
And the rollercoaster ride continued for Mr. Cuomo. In 2003 he and his wife Kerry divorced. His personal life made for front page stories better suited for the National Enquirer. The nasty divorce battle was fertile tabloid fodder. And Andrew Cuomo’s once brilliant political future seemed all but doomed forever.
In spite of all this, some expected him to run for the democratic gubernatorial nomination in 2006. He opted instead to run for Attorney General of the State of New York. He ran a successful campaign ultimately replacing the state’s AG Eliot Spitzer. Mr. Spitzer had decided to run for Governor, his running mate – a state senator from Harlem by the name of David Paterson. Spitzer became New York’s 54th Governor. I think it is fair to say, that at the time Mr. Paterson had no idea what he was getting himself into.
We all know the rest of the story. Gov. Spitzer found himself on the other side of the law, now commonly referred to as the infamous “Client #9.” He was forced to resign a year into his first term amid torrid steamy accusations of sex, lies and tapes. And Lt. Governor Paterson, who by his own admission had some skeletons in his closet, became Governor Paterson.
In spite of the fact that his tenure had been mired by a weak economy, a dysfunctional legislature and accusations of all sorts, Governor Paterson was actively running for election this year until a couple of days ago, that is.
The latest scandal to hit the Paterson administration involves the sins of a close personal aide and allegations of tampering with criminal investigations on the part of the Governor involving the state police. This proved to be the fatal blow to the floundering Paterson campaign. Now the door was left wide open for an official investigation. Enter Andrew Cuomo, the current Attorney General of the State of New York.
It has long been widely speculated that Mr. Cuomo will seek the democratic nomination for Governor of New York in 2010. That is almost a certainty. Here is where I see a huge potential conflict of interest.
Attorney General Cuomo must and should investigate all these allegations of misconduct on the part of elected officials. That is within his job description. But how does he do this effectively when he potentially stands to benefit politically and personally from whatever he uncovers in this case?
Mr. Cuomo will be investigating the man he hopes to replace. Perception is reality. How does he do that objectively or fairly? How ethical would it be for him to conduct and/or oversee this investigation? This is the type of investigation that is certain to rise to the level of the AG at some point.
I see no possible way he can recuse himself from this and remain credible. If he bucks this down to one of the Deputy Attorneys General, it is a disservice to the people of New York. The people deserve the complete and uncompromised attention of their Attorney General on this one. If he continues involved and then runs for Governor, what does that say about him, his ethics and principles? If he resigns as AG to pursue the gubernatorial nomination, he leaves the State of New York without a high level leader at a time of crisis. Is that the type of person New Yorkers want as their next governor?
This situation is the test of true leadership. The people of New York State have been through more than enough since 2001. They deserve better. They deserve a decent Governor, a true leader who gives them his/her undivided attention and puts asides personal interest for the good of the people. The right thing to do is the never the easy thing to do.
In my opinion, for Mr. Cuomo the right thing to do is to put his personal political aspirations aside and pursue this investigation to the fullest. If it means waiting a bit longer to become governor, so be it. A great leader is a visionary, and Mr. Cuomo can exercise that vision right now. He has much to gain by putting the people of New York first, and a lot more to lose if he goes the other way.