How many Cuomo scandals do we really have to face?


State attorney general Letitia James has two Cuomo investigations on her schedule: Sexual harassment of employees and manipulation of COVID nursing home death numbers. Two scandals.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo phoned Assemblyman Ron Kim, a critic, threatening to ruin him — an action of a petty bully. That’s three scandals.

A top aide and close friend, Joe Percoco, is doing time for financial skullduggery on the state’s dime for a fourth scandal.

A few years back, our dear leader tried to bend environmental laws about permitted density of cows in order to help a buddy, the yogurt king Chobani, have a plentiful and cheap supply of milk. That’s five.

Andy Byford, the great and well-loved expert on transportation, was driven out of the New York City Transit Authority by Cuomo’s bullying and micro-managing. We’re up to six.

In March 2020, Mayor Bill de Blasio spent a week dithering about the newly arrived pandemic and finally acted to close schools and lock down the city. But Cuomo stopped the action for another week while he dithered, and while the case and death numbers began climbing. He wanted to show that he was the boss in this crisis, and ended up allowing the crisis to blossom completely out of control. A seventh scandal.

Let’s stop here. There are many more, such as his handing the COVID-19 vaccination program over to for-profit hospital systems that donated to his campaign fund, and that have executives among his circle of friends.

A scandal doesn’t have to involve criminal activity. For an elected official, it is any self-serving action that results in disservice to constituents. Andrew Cuomo’s scandals reduce to one huge malpractice, namely unending corrupt cronyism to benefit a small circle of male friends, and to shore up his own alpha-ness.

The sexual harassment, manipulations of nursing home deaths, threats to his critics and accusers, placement of untrustworthy buddies into positions requiring trust, attempts to break laws to do a friend a favor — all are part of a single behavioral code that has become unacceptable because of its cost to constituents and its gross injustice.

In another scandal, the governor was averse to raising the taxes of the very wealthy, but quite comfortable in slashing Medicaid in the middle of a pandemic. The real reason he didn’t want to tax the very wealthy is that they are his close buddies, whereas those people who need Medicaid are faceless non-humans to our dear leader.

Corrupt cronyism skims state money into the pockets of the already wealthy, one way or another. It also endangers ordinary New York state residents, and adds to their difficulties as they try to adjust to such insults as inadequate and antiquated public transportation, unjust school funding, and an irrational COVID-19 vaccination system.

All this is familiar to me. I was employed as an environmental and public health impact assessment scientist and study manager at the New York State Power Authority between 1974 and 1982. George Berry presided over the power authority years before and after my employment there.

When I started, all vice presidents but one were white males with Teutonic names (English or German). The one exception was a male of Slavic descent who headed the finance department. Not one Italian, Jew or Irishman. Not one woman. Not one person of color. These vice presidents were the people with whom Berry felt comfortable.

Merrill Eisenbud, the politically astute environmental scientist, was also friends with George Berry and golfed with him. Eisenbud founded Ecological Analysts, an environmental contracting company. The power authority wanted to build a thermal power plant on the shores of Arthur Kill in Staten Island. I had the task of scoping out the impact study, reviewing the proposals, and — with a colleague in the finance department — deciding which to accept.

The Arthur Kill was a filthy body of water with oily sediment. Any contractor working there would have obstacles to overcome different from and more serious than those encountered with other waterbodies.

EA submitted a proposal with an extremely low bid — around $400,000 — whereas the other two proposing firms submitted higher bids, around $600,000. The technical part of the low bid called for methods that would probably not work at Arthur Kill. The accountant and I rejected the low bid proposal in favor of one that would probably get the work done at a reasonably high standard.

An order came from Berry’s office: We had to accept the lowest bid. I warned my vice president that the work probably could not be performed fully and competently at that low of a level of resources. He told me that we had to obey the order.

About a month after work had begun, a series of change-order requests came from the contractor to increase funding because of environmental difficulties. The accountant and I refused to approve the increases. An order came from Berry’s office to approve the increases.

The change-orders brought the price tag well over $600,000. Thus, a buddy of George Berry reaped a higher compensation for his firm than the original higher bids from the competing firms. I firmly believe that this whole minuet was scripted by the buddies.

This is how cronyism vacuums up public money under various guises, in this case, acceptance of the lowest bid.

Cronyism resulted at the time in someone with mediocre education and training heading the authority’s occupational health and safety office, but that’s a whole other story. I mention it because money may not be cronyism’s only cost: Health, safety and lives may be threatened by it, as we know it from the badly begun Cuomo vaccination program. Weeks passed before a decent rate of vaccination was reached.

To look at the sexual harassment issue separately from the other scandals is myopic. They all fit together to form a picture of a bullying frat bro with a coterie of friends who are rewarded with state money just for being his friends — and donors.

Let’s ask for an end to his reign on the basis of the whole package, and not on the harassment issue alone. Although it is important.

Have an opinion? Share your thoughts as a letter to the editor. Make your submission to letters@riverdalepress.com. Please include your full name, phone number (for verification purposes only), and home address (which will not be published). The Riverdale Press maintains an open submission policy, and stated opinions do not necessarily represent the publication.
Deborah Wallace,