On his website, Governor Andrew Cuomo identifies the hall marks of his administration as “Performance, Integrity and Pride.” We will concede the “Pride” part. I doubt anyone will ever accuse the Governor of lacking sufficient self-esteem. “Performance” is a characteristic we have discussed in the past, and will continue to do so. This post deals with the “Integrity” of the Cuomo Administration, a word the Oxford English Dictionary defines as “the quality of having strong moral principles.”
We are looking at this because of an interview with Howard Glaser by WGDJ-AM’s Frederic U. Dicker this past Thursday. Glaser is one of the most important figures in Cuomo’s Administration, serving as the Director of Operations overseeing all state agencies. The sole topic of the interview was what had been a minor controversy over the forced retirement of Mike Fayette from the Adirondack office of the Department of Transportation. One would not think this was a matter of such import for a person in Glaser’s position, except for the fact that Fayette told the Adirondack Daily Enterprise that he was forced out of his job for giving a previous interview to the paper that was not authorized by DOT.
Glaser began the interview - which actually seemed more like a soliloquy - by sanctimoniously criticizing the media for sometimes getting only half the story because of deadline pressure, although in this case he thought they got less than half the story. He expressed his hope that he media would obtain the full facts to correct the “misrepresentations” and “misleading information” they had published. Glaser then proceeded to blatantly distort the facts of this case.
I have listened to the interview three times, and replayed several portions of it several times to be sure I understood what Glaser was saying. (You can hear it on WGDJ-AM’s web site as a podcast from Dicker’s February 21 program. It is Dicker’s headline feature, and the segment with Glaser begins around the 45-minute mark.)
If you only listened to Glaser’s narrative - and believed him - you would come away with the view that Fayette’s threatened termination was the result of an inappropriate sexual relationship with a subordinate employee that was facilitated on state time with the use of state-supplied equipment such as a car, Blackberry and computer. Indeed, Glaser used the phrases “inappropriate sexual relationship” and “theft of services” so often, I thought it must have been a goal for his performance appraisal. He assured us that speaking to the media would never be grounds for termination if that was the “only” reason.
Fayette had been guilty of the conduct described by Glaser. It was not, however, the impetus for the threatened termination that forced his resignation. He had already been disciplined for the behavior with a two-week suspension without pay in early 2011. The immediate controversy began with a notice of discipline dated September 14, 2012, informing him “if you are found guilty of the charge brought against you, the penalty exacted against you will consist of termination.” What was the single charge? ”You disobeyed a written directive … not to speak with the Adirondack Daily Enterprise.” (The first page of the letter was printed in the on-line Times Union of February 21.) The letter did mention his prior discipline as a factor in assessing the appropriate penalty.
Dicker, who is also Cuomo’s authorized hagiographer, spent most of the interview “tsk, tsking” Glaser’s account of Fayette’s misdeeds, but at least asked one salient question: Was Glaser talking about this as a recent case? Glaser assured him it was, saying that Fayette had a “long record and pattern of abuse of theft of services and inappropriate relationship.” He further informed Dicker that Fayette retired once the termination hearing was scheduled.
Setting aside whether termination of Fayette’s employment was warranted under the actual facts of the case, Glaser had several options in how to handle a controversy feeding into a “narrative about Cuomo administration control of information,” as Glaser described it to The New York Times. The first would have been to simply ignore it. The employee himself had made public details of the prior suspension. It is hard to see a story involving a disgruntled employee with a less than pristine work record being news for more than one day.
A second possibility would have been for Glaser to tell the truth, saying, for example: “The termination was for insubordination. While this particular offense would not normally have justified firing an employee, this individual had a series of significant infractions in the past two years that warranted an increased punishment.” Again, I think that would have been the end of the story.
But Glaser took a different approach, taking a story confined largely to the Adirondack Daily Enterprise and getting it to The New York Times. In doing so, he not only enhanced what he had described as the “tired story line” of the Cuomo administration tightly controlling information, but did a great disservice to himself and his boss. When one of the most powerful men in state government goes after a retired employee, and does it by grossly distorting the truth, it cannot be seen as an example of the “integrity” of which the Cuomo administration likes to boast. Indeed, Glaser’s enthusiastic repeating of the two-year old charges, and the maligning of the character of the former employee, is nothing if not the behavior of a bully.
This is, unfortunately, not atypical behavior for the Cuomo administration. In recent weeks, top officials have gone after the Democratic Mayor of Syracuse for having the temerity to question the wisdom of a proposal in Cuomo’s budget that would allow cities and towns the option of delaying pension costs to the future. It’s an idea that helps Cuomo’s short-term political standing while pushing off high expenses to the future when, presumably, he will not be Governor.
Then we had last year’s slandering of top officials of the New York Racing Association as part of the Governor’s move to take control of horse racing. A letter from the two top racing officials, on the letterhead of the Executive Chamber, accused members of the NYRA Board of acting ”only in its own proprietary interests” - because they owned horses. The officials promised a review of the “character and fitness” of the Board members to determine whether their licenses should be revoked once a review by the Inspector General was completed. That review has not been completed, but that did not prevent the Governor from appointing some of those same Board members to his own Board. It is yet another example of the character assassination that is permissible if done to further the Governor’s interests.
Incidentally, former DOT employee Mike Fayette who gave the unauthorized interview to a newspaper - he was praising the Administration’s response to Hurricane Irene and its aftermath.