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Cuomo pushing ethics reforms, but how far will he go?

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo in Syracuse Wednesday

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is pushing his latest plan for ethics reform in appearances all around the state, following the arrest of the former Assembly speaker on corruption charges. But questions remain whether he will have any more success this time than a deal last year that ended in the shuttering of a corruption commission.
Cuomo is once again crusading for stronger ethics laws, now that former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, charged with running a massive corruption scheme, has resigned from his post and been replaced.  Silver, who remains an assemblyman, is accused of using his employment connections at two law firms to illegally gain $6 million in kickbacks and bribes.
Cuomo says he’ll hold up passage of the state budget, if he has to, in order to get lawmakers to agree to either quit their outside jobs, or provide all details of their employment so that the public can see whether the jobs present a conflict of interest.
The governor, speaking in Buffalo, called it “total disclosure” and says he fully expects the legislature to resist.
“I understand that they are going to have serious problems with my proposals, because they are that dramatic,” Cuomo said. “They are dramatic proposals because the wrong was that dramatic, and the injury was that dramatic, and the loss of trust was that dramatic.”
But Cuomo’s track record on reform has been mixed. He gave up on a plan to require non-partisan redistricting, settling instead for a constitutional amendment that will change redistricting in 10 years. The governor was criticized last year when he disbanded a Moreland Act Commission on corruption in exchange for a reform package that was far weaker than what Cuomo had originally sought.  The probes begun by the Moreland Commission were taken up by the U.S. Attorney, which brought the charges against Silver.
Cuomo denies that he’s trying to make amends now for giving up on the Moreland corruption investigations too quickly.
“One has nothing to do with the other,” said Cuomo. “We have bribery laws that we never had before.”
Susan Lerner, with Common Cause, says she’s encouraged by the governor’s latest proposals, but says the real test will be in the details of the legislation, and whether Cuomo actually follows through this time and delivers real changes.   
“What we’ve seen in Albany is that there are infinite variations on what people negotiate and how they’ll characterize it, ” said Lerner, who said New Yorkers want real reform.
The governor, who’s been traveling around the state to promote his budget plan, is framing the state’s corruption problems as an on going  issue that plagued even his father , former Gov. Mario Cuomo, and has proved difficult to quell.  
Cuomo, speaking in Syracuse, said he wants to end the current crime wave that’s resulted in several legislators being indicted, convicted and jailed.
“Otherwise we’re going to watch this movie over and over and over again,” Cuomo said.
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who replaced Silver,  responded  cautiously.
“I don’t see his issue of wanting to discuss ethics being a problem for us going forward,” Heastie said.
Senate Leader Dean Skelos was noncommittal, saying  he’s “open to building on reforms .” He says he doubts that the budget will be late over the issue.
Cuomo’s push comes as sexual harassment victims of former Assemblyman Vito Lopez win nearly $600,000 in restitution from the state, and former Senate Leader Malcolm Smith is convicted on bribery charges, for trying to buy his way onto the ballot for New York City mayor.

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.