While readers versed in the politics of Massachusetts may think I am talking about the peripatetic Deval Patrick, this is about the Governor of the Empire State who appears to duck responsibility whenever convenient.
While much of the media is obsessed with the so-called Petraeus scandal (and what, by the way, makes men and women acting stupidly a scandal?), there is actual human suffering and misery still transpiring in the New York and New Jersey areas as a result of Hurricane Sandy and the follow-up Nor’easter. Last week, more than two weeks after Sandy hit, 8,000 homes were still without power from the Long Island Power Authority, and another 32,000 needed repairs to their homes (and certification by an electrician) for available LIPA power to be restored.
Governor Andrew Cuomo has responded to this crisis by forming a committee to conduct an investigation. He has taken the step of convening a “Moreland Commission,” an extraordinary power he has threatened to use in other situations when he has not gotten his way. (Incidentally, the Governor may wish to have his Executive Orders subject to proofreading. This one is entitled an EX CUTIVEORDER. The second “Whereas” clause says, “storm emergencies have effected [sic], as well as thousands of businesses and private and public services providers charged with the protection of the health and safety of New Yorkers….”)
I do not know anything about LIPA or its reputation. What I do know, however, is that it was of such concern to the Governor that he held a press conference in April, 2011 to announce that he had “directed” the Inspector General to conduct a thorough review of the Authority. The IG at the time assured the Governor it would be “swift and thorough.” It may be thorough, but it’s certainly not swift since, as The Times Union reported last week, they have yet to produce a report. In February of this year, the Governor issued another press release after signing legislation that “will ensure better service … for power customers on Long Island.”
Who is responsible for LIPA? Under the state’s laws, the Board of Trustees is supposed to consist of 15 members, nine appointed by the Governor, and three each by the Senate President and Assembly Speaker. According to their web site, the Board currently has only 10 members. Two were appointed by the Senate President and two by the Speaker. Of the nine gubernatorial appointments, only six have been appointed. Three of those, including the Chairman, have terms that expired almost 15 months ago. With the ability to make seven appointments since taking office, Governor Cuomo has only made one. The Chief Operating Officer of LIPA, who was also serving as the acting CEO, has resigned. According to Dana Rubinstein in Capital, there has not been a permanent CEO since 2010. Also, see her pieces here and here, as well as The Daily News‘ Bill Hammond here.
It should not take an investigative commission with subpoena powers to realize that failing to appoint the senior management of any organization for any length of time does not help that organization achieve its mission. That, however, is very similar to what the Governor has done with the New York Racing Association. As I have written about numerous times, the Governor seized control of NYRA last May with a campaign based on threats and unsubstantiated allegations. While one would have thought that such extreme action would lead to a completely revamped organization (the original speculation is that it would be completed around Labor Day), almost nothing has occurred in public that would cause anyone to think things will be different. (That sets aside the question of what, if anything, the Governor thinks needed fixing.)
He did not sign the legislation he wrote in June until October 1. It took another three weeks to appoint his Board members and, despite assurances from his staff to the contrary, they are not a nation-wide group, but all New Yorkers, many of whom were from the former Board. All this time, Cuomo has kept in place NYRA’s Chief Operating Officer, whose appointment by the prior Board to become the Chair was such an affront that top Cuomo officials wrote an outraged letter asserting that the appointment was contrary to “regulatory and legal requirements” (without citing legal authority for the statements – for which there is none) and not in the “best interests of racing and the taxpayers.” Last Friday was the six-month anniversary of this letter, with the then COO still the COO, and no CEO on the horizon.
The Cuomo Administration has also touted significant changes to regulations covering equine health and safety as a result of an investigation and compelling report by a Task Force on September 28 that reviewed equine deaths at Aqueduct earlier this year. The New York State Racing and Wagering Board announced on October 11 that it had enacted numerous rules implementing the emergency recommendations of the Task Force (and getting the credulous Joe Drape of The New York Times to parrot the state’s press release). If “enacted” and “emergency” means regulations that are not yet in effect, and for which there has been neither public notice nor text of changes on the NYSRWB’s website, I guess you could say this is accurate. Buried in the NYSRWB press release was a statement that the regulations would actually “go into effect” on December 12, but until that happens we have to wonder if this is yet another Cuomo press release promising dramatic change that never materializes.
The Racing and Wagering Board would have been in the news for another reason last week if the media actually noticed. The state’s Comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli, released a review of the Thoroughbred Breeding and Development Fund. The Fund is responsible for promoting and encouraging the breeding and racing of thoroughbreds in New York, and is financed mostly from payments made by racetracks and racinos. One of the Comptroller’s findings is that the Fund keeps additional revenue from registration fees and advertising, and spends the revenues in excess of spending limits imposed by statute. The Fund hotly disputed this conclusion in a detailed response by the Chairman of the Board for the Fund justifying its practice. In his response to this letter, DiNapoli stood by the original conclusions, while also noting that the Racing and Wagering Board agreed with him, saying in a 2011 Report that the Fund’s practice “distorts cost limitation tests as set forth in statute.” Who is the Chairman of the Board for the Fund who disagrees with the Comptroller? John D. Sabini. Who is the Chairman of the Racing and Wagering Board who agrees with the Comptroller? John D. Sabini.
My first foray into New York’s politics came when I read the Inspector General’s 2010 report on the Aqueduct VLT procurement award to AEG that ended up being reversed in a matter of weeks. Even though I had spent my professional life in government, including public contracting, I was simply blown away by what the IG’s report revealed. Two of the three major players – Speaker Sheldon Silver and the then-Governor – completely abdicated responsibility, leaving a multi-billion dollar decision to the then-President of the Senate. The Senate engaged in a “process” that was as incompetent as it was venal. The IG referred his report to various law enforcement officials, presumably to look at possible criminal conduct for which there was ample suspicion. At a news conference in the past year addressing, in part, his decision to not award a no-bid contract to the eventual successful bidder for the VLT’s, Governor Cuomo was asked a question referencing the botched procurement. He responded by saying, “I wasn’t here then.”
At the time of both the AEG contract award and the Inspector General’s report, Cuomo was the state’s top law enforcement official as the Attorney General. But if you are not taking responsibility for things for which you are, indeed, responsible, saying you are not “here” is, unfortunately, all too accurate. The Governor has ducked responsibility for his oversight of LIPA, and while it is too early to tell if he is taking a similar approach to NYRA, his past performances indicates that may be in the offing.