NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara says he’s taking over the anti-corruption work that a commission created by Gov. Andrew Cuomo aborted when it was suddenly disbanded in April. Meanwhile, a Democratic gubernatorial hopeful is calling for Cuomo to resign if he was aware of his staff meddling in the panel’s work.
As CBS 2 political reporter Marcia Kramer reported, Bharara told talk show host Charlie Rose on Thursday, “We have the documents and we have the resources and we have the wherewithal and we have, I think, the kind of fearlessness and independence that is required to do difficult public corruption cases.
“Our interest, above all other interests, is make sure that the job is getting done because we’re the people that do our jobs.”
Cuomo’s political foes have called for a prompt criminal investigation of his administration following a New York Times report that said the governor’s office repeatedly compromised the work of the Moreland Commission he set up to root out corruption. The report charged that after appointing members to the panel, Cuomo’s office interfered with its work when it veered too close to groups with ties to the governor or issues that could hurt him politically.
Meanwhile, Zephyr Teachout, a Fordham University law professor challenging Cuomo in the upcoming Democratic primary, told WCBS 880’s Paul Murnane that she believes the behavior is worse than the prostitution scandal that cost former Gov. Eliot Spitzer his job — she described that as a “private indiscretion.”
“With Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s top aide, we don’t yet know what Andrew Cuomo knew or when he knew it, but his top aide basically made different law for business associates than for the rest of us,” Teachout said.
When Cuomo first ran for governor, it was with the promise to stop corruption in Albany, Kramer reported.
Thus, it was no great surprise when he established the Moreland Commission last year to probe corruption and make recommendations for ethics reform.
“I want to send a signal to two audiences — one are the elected officials in the state of New York — we’re going to raise the bar on public integrity, public trust,” Cuomo said in July 2013. “And second are the people of the state. I want to say, ‘Look, we have the best people in the business watching.'”
Though it was launched on vows of independence, the now-defunct commission was “hobbled,” the Times reported.
As Murnane reported Tuesday, Teachout and Republican candidate Rob Astorino joined forces, blasting Cuomo on issues that included the Moreland Commission.
Teachout said the public is now learning their governor may not be serving them, and that her campaign is gaining attention. She plans to unveil proposals for future panels examining corruption next week, Murnane reported.
The allegations against Cuomo’s office provoked pundits to wonder about the political fallout.
“Is it going to hurt him at the ballot box?” Jeanne Zaino, a political science professor at Iona College, told Kramer. “It’s hard to imagine that it will, but I think it’s going to depend an awful lot on, No. 1, what the U.S. attorney decides to do and, No. 2., how the Cuomo team decides to handle it.”
While there is no indication Cuomo himself was personally involved in any wrongdoing, good government groups were upset that the Moreland Commission died such a quick death because they were hoping for a massive public ethics overhaul. Cuomo did manage to get the reluctant Legislature to create new crimes for violating public trust and corrupting government.
Cuomo said he disbanded the panel because the Legislature had approved the tougher laws.
But good government groups wanted more, including:
• Meaningful public campaign financing
• Donation limits
• Oversight on pork barrel spending
• Oversight on lawmaker spending
“It’s not what the good government groups wanted,” Zaino said. “It’s, I don’t believe, enough. But it’s a start. … He certainly did something. Did he do enough? Probably not.”
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