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Cuomo takes action against discrimination, as former top aide awaits court action

Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivered remarks Sunday on fighting hate crimes at Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem.

Indictments are due by Wednesday in an economic development corruption scandal involving Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s former top aide and other former associates. The governor has been active in recent days on other matters, including taking steps to counteract a rise in hate crimes after the election of Donald Trump as president.

In the days since the election, Cuomo has set up a hotline for New Yorkers to report incidents of bias and discrimination, as hate crimes have spiked since Nov. 8, when Donald Trump won the presidency. It’s already received 400 calls.

The governor, speaking at a Baptist church in Harlem over the weekend, announced a special investigative unit of the New York State Police and Division of Human Rights to look into the allegations.

And he said he’s setting up a legal defense fund for immigrants.

“We will be putting together a public-private legal defense fund to provide immigrants who can’t afford their own defense,” Cuomo said.

Cuomo’s written a letter to college students, informing of them of their rights to nondiscrimination, and putting them on notice that the state will enforce its “strict laws” against hate crimes. And he proposes expanding the state’s human rights laws to include schoolchildren at public and private schools.

“I will propose this January to expand the Human Rights Law to specifically protect every child in every school,” Cuomo said.

Cuomo, in his remarks, did not mention Trump by name. The governor has said previously that he could find common ground with the president-elect on infrastructure projects.

The governor’s speech gained him attention beyond New York; the Democratic National Committee distributed the text, and it was praised by Democrats in other states. Cuomo has been mentioned as one of several possible candidates for president in 2020.

The governor, when asked recently about presidential aspirations, denied he’s thinking about it right now.

“I’m doing the best job I can as governor,” said Cuomo, who said he plans to run for re-election in 2018. “We have a lot of good stuff going on.”

The talk of 2020 and Cuomo’s recent announcements comes as federal prosecutors are poised to issue indictments in criminal corruption cases against the governor’s former top aide and longtime family friend, Joe Percoco.

The court action is due to be completed before Thanksgiving. A former lobbyist associated with the Cuomo family, Todd Howe, already has pleaded guilty to eight counts, including bribery, and is a cooperating witness. Alain Kaloyeros, the former head of SUNY Polytechnic Institute, and two developers also are accused of running kickback and bribery schemes totaling nearly a million dollars.

The governor pre-emptively proposed some ethics changes, a week before the indictments are due. He’s been unsuccessful, so far, though, in convincing the Legislature to hold a special session to review them.

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.