Cuomo administration is committed to secrecy

You cannot have democracy without good information. How are any of us expected to vote intelligently if we don’t know what is going on? Andrew Cuomo campaigned for office on a platform of transparency in government. As attorney general, he employed Blair Horner to create something called “Project Sunlight.” For twenty-five years, Horner was (and still is) one of the most respected men in Albany. He was a good government lobbyist who kept legislators’ feet to the fire. He was always Mr. Integrity so when Cuomo hired him, those of us with some lingering doubts took notice. Horner was responsible for setting up a data base that was supposed to tell all. However, after a relatively brief amount of time, Horner resigned from the Cuomo administration, suggesting that he had accomplished what he set out to do. A man of conviction, he now works for the American Cancer Society and appears weekly on public radio. I did my best to get Horner to tell me why he left so early in the Cuomo time line but he stuck to his story. I like a man of character.

Now we are starting to see some other troubling signs from the man who was going to lead the most transparent gubernatorial administration in history. It turns out that Cuomo is committed to secrecy. Several news items have appeared in the New York Times and the Albany Times Union suggesting that Cuomo is dedicated to anything but transparency. We all know that it’s easier to operate in secrecy than to show your cards to your opponents in the political game. The problem is that politics can be brutal. If your opponents sense your vulnerabilities, you can be sure they will use them against you. The current assumption is that Cuomo the Younger wants to do what Papa couldn’t – run for president.

Let’s face it; if you had his office you might do the same thing that he’s doing. When he was attorney general of the state, Cuomo did a lot. At the conclusion of their terms, the attorneys general customarily do what Cuomo’s predecessor, Eliot Spitzer, did – send thousands of pages of documents to the state archives. Cuomo didn’t. When two ace investigative reporters from the Albany Times Union went to the archives to look around, they found a memo having to do with something called “Trooper Gate.” It turns out that soon after they got hold of that memo, the files of the state archivist were combed by the Cuomo people and lots of material, including the “Trooper Gate” memo, disappeared. Now people are calling that disappearance “File Gate.” The Cuomo people say they have the right to remove such documents and it turns out they do. At least one top source says the original memo was removed because of a single sentence suggesting that the Cuomo investigation was less than stellar.

Cuomo worked hard to create the aura of a strong attorney general. He said that he would let the facts lead him. However, this case hints that there may have been some political motives in his investigation. In the old days, Andrew Cuomo had a reputation as a political enforcer for his father. At one point he accused me through an operative in the strongest possible language of having written an anonymous New York Times Op Ed article about his father. I had not and the father sort of apologized. When he ran for governor we were told that this was the new Andrew. Now we hear that communications between top Cuomo people are not done by e-mail but on devices that don’t create replicable records.

None of this passes the stink test. Right now, Andrew is very, very popular. People think he is efficient. Try looking through history and notice who else was characterized as efficient in the beginning.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 7/20/12

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One Comment on “Cuomo administration is committed to secrecy”

  1. Harvey Brody Says:

    Secrecy and government. Alan as a political scientist you know that the primary function of Government, whether federal, state, or local is to provide regulation based upon enacted Laws to enable the continuation of not only our political system, but also maintain the public order by Law. This is relevant because matters in NYS Courts may cause Judges to essentially seal the courtroom creating secrecy. 1976 was to be a banner year for NYS Government Transparency. Our then rival state, California had earlier developed a process of initiative and referendum enabling the placement of proposed legislation on the ballot, and if passed would become Law. An activist named Howard Jarvis actually succeeded in capping the California local real estate taxes. In NY the concept failed miserably except for creation of the FOIL and the Committee on Open Government created by the late Governor Carey with the support of the legislature. Robert Freeman the long time chairperson of the NYS Committee on Open Government and actually a state employee has offered numerous opinions enabling those that pay for government to be able to observe government. I work for a pseudo Agency with an important mission that prefers not to use electronic email at all, instead using cell telephone texting or print/outs of deleted documents to communicate. This is kinda foolish because the text messages may be foiled as well and using simple technology is admissible. I think that Andrew is doing an excellent job as NY Governor but am, like you, frightened by this unnecessary secrecy. I would take a step further and question the need to have his name and successes converted into television and radio commercials, paid for by very wealthy persons often receiving lucrative state contracts. I do not think that there is ant relationship between the contractors who pay to publicize Andrew glean any benefit because of an aggressive Comptroller and the integrity of the Governor. However what does concern me is that this very aggressive campaign by Andrew’s contributors to place him on a pedestal frightens individuals of different opinions from expressing themselves and do more harm then good because it causes the media to dig and dig. We have learned interesting fragments of the Spitzer Troopergate scandal and the role of Andrew. The fragments unearthed by the media don’t bode well for Andrew but released in total context to the historical period because of the secrecy of Andrew and his sealing of papers relating to the period while Attorney General. That’s the problem with secrecy in Government. My other concern is that as a fledging historian the repetitive Cuomo commercials remind me of the 1930’s political leaders; hardly the goal of the Governor. Hopefully our Governor will read your essay on secrecy in government. Historically political leaders that hide behind a cloak of secrecy tend to lose confidence with the electorate.This would be a literal shame because of the potential greatness awaiting Andrew. We have a dynamic and effective Governor who may very well be succesfull for national office,

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