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Long-term impact of Moreland Controversy on Cuomo unknown

Zack Seward

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has not held any public appearances since a potentially damaging New York Times story that reported that his top aide interfered in a corruption probe when it focused on Cuomo donors. But on Monday morning, the governor is scheduled to visit the University of Buffalo, where the press will try to ask him questions about the Moreland Act Commission and his office's involvement.

Cuomo’s political challengers leaped on The Times story, that alleges a top aide to Cuomo squelched subpoenas to the governor’s donors and associates.

Republican candidate for governor Rob Astorino weighs in several times day.

“It’s galling that a man who rode in promising to be the white knight is actually knee deep in scandal right now,” said Astorino, who has also called for a special state prosecutor.

Astorino has taken to mocking Cuomo’s now five-day absence from any public events, sending out a tongue-in-cheek press release asking whether an all points bulletin should be issued to find the governor.   And Cuomo’s opponent in the Democratic primary, Fordham Law school professor Zephyr Teachout, organized a small band to protest outside the governor’s midtown Manhattan office.

The story, on a slow summer news week, has been featured on Fox News and MSNBC, as well as the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Stewart compared Cuomo to “the boss who says ‘we’ll play hoops at lunch, you can go hard,’ and then when Jimmy from accounting blocks his shot as he drives the lane he goes ‘hey, the other team’s not allowed to touch the ball because I started the game.’”

It’s difficult to determine how Cuomo is reacting to the pile on, since the governor has not held a public appearance since the newspaper story broke. His aides have not replied to requests for a response.

At the beginning of the week, things looked very bright for the incumbent governor. A new poll found him 37 points ahead of GOP challenger Astorino. Cuomo had recently reported having $35 million in his campaign war chest, compared to Astorino’s comparatively tiny sum of $2.4 million.

Steve Greenberg, a spokesman for Siena College Polling, speaking on July 21, said only something big could change the dynamics of the race.

“In order to shake this race up, we’re going to need to sees some outside, dramatic event take place,” Greenberg said two days before The Times story was published .

Whether the report on potential meddling with the anti-corruption commission is big enough to shift any significant support to the governor’s challengers remains to be seen.

So far, no one has been accused of committing a crime. And that same poll found that the issue of government corruption is not that big a deal to likely voters, just one percent  listed  corruption  as a chief concern for them in the upcoming elections.

At this point, the next chapter in story is out of the hands of Cuomo and his aides, and up to U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who is investigating the way Cuomo and his aides handled the Moreland Act anti-corruption commission.

Meanwhile, Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick, one of the co-chairmen of the Moreland Commission, says the panel was independent and that there was no interference from the governor's office when it came to subpoenas.

In a three-page statement released Monday morning, Fitzpatrick said that "the bottom line is that nobody interfered with me or my co-chairs" and called the suggestion absurd.

Fitzpatrick went on to say that the commission had to have some involvement from the governor's office, mainly because the state was in charge of the Moreland Commission's budget and the committee was provided staff and office space to work by the state.

"Had you been in the room during our many meetings, you would have seen many discussions, reasoned debate, intellectual curiosity, investigative strategies, commitment to a government responsive to the needs of the people and most of all you would have twenty five independent decision makers," Fitzpatrick wrote.

He says if he had been ordered not to pursue a topic, he is certain that he and his co-chairs would have resigned. Fitzpatrick also claimed that if Cuomo asked him again to serve on the commission, he would do it.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.