Republican gubernatorial challenger Rob Astorino, who has struggled mightily to chip away at Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s massive lead in the polls, may have finally found a chink in the governor’s armor—the governor’s own public corruption investigatory panel tasked with cleaning up Albany.
An explosive new report published in The New York Times Wednesday details how Cuomo’s close associates intervened whenever the panel of prosecutors—known as the Moreland Commission—began focusing on groups politically linked to Cuomo, even to the point of demanding that subpoenas be withdrawn.
The Times detailed the actions of Lawrence Schwartz, one of Cuomo’s senior aides, and Regina Calcaterra, the commission’s executive director and a former Suffolk County chief deputy county executive under Steve Bellone.
The commissioners believed, according to the Times, that Calcaterra was updating the governor’s office in real-time during their meetings, and was directly involved in quashing subpoenas.
Her meddling apparently became so intrusive that Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice, one of the co-chairs, wanted Calcaterra replaced, the Times reported. Rice stepped down after announcing her bid for Congress.
Astorino, the Westchester County Executive, is using the report as a lifeline to keep his struggling campaign above water. He wasted no time attacking Cuomo in a conference call with reporters. He accused the governor of breaking the law and went so far as calling him the “most corrupt governor in history.”
When asked what laws he believes Cuomo actually violated, Astorino responded: “obstruction of justice.” Pressed further for specific charges, he didn’t elaborate.
“This is obviously very serious,” Astorino said over the phone from Aspen, where he’d just flown in for the Republican Governors Association’s executive meeting, armed with a copy of the Times he brought with him.
“It’s likely, a strong likelihood, that it will result in criminal charges,” he said. “Andrew Cuomo has a lot of questions to answer.
“The people of New York, I think, are absolutely tired of scandal and corruption in Albany,” he added. “It’s galling that a man who rode in promising to be the White Knight is actually knee-deep in scandal right now.”
Astorino fired off several questions aimed at the governor, including: Who gave Regina Calcaterra the authority to interfere with the subpoenas and investigations? Who in the Cuomo administration has been subpoenaed? How many subpoenas were squashed by the governor’s office?
Astorino also challenged Cuomo to release all emails and BlackBerry messages related to the Moreland Commission’s investigation.
His heated rebuke of Cuomo comes only two days after a Siena College poll had him trailing the governor by 37 points.
Astorino’s problem? Many voters simply don’t know who he is, according to pollsters.
“Astorino has failed to become significantly more known to voters or to put a dent in the Cuomo armor in the last six months,” Siena College pollster Steven Greenberg said when the poll was released. “He has much to do and not much time to do it in.”
It may not be for a lack of trying, however.
Astorino has criticized Cuomo’s response to Superstorm Sandy, noting that thousands of Sandy victims still aren’t in their homes, and for using federal Sandy relief money to fund state tourism advertisements in hurricane-devastated areas.
He said that Cuomo’s lead in the polls is “based on a big lie.”
There’s also the issue of money, or lack thereof in Astorino’s war chest. According to the latest filings, Cuomo had $35 million on hand; Astorino, $2.4 million.
Cuomo has not publicly addressed the Times’ report or issued any statements. But his office did release a press release Wednesday announcing $175 million for localities to pay for post-Sandy storm repairs, $145 million of which is going to Nassau and Suffolk counties.
Astorino called on Cuomo to address the public, saying the governor should come clean about “what he knew, what he ordered, what he approved.”
He also urged the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan, Preet Bharara, to continue his investigation into the commission.
Bharara “needs to do his job efficiently and he also needs to do it expeditiously,” Astorino said, preferably before Election Day “so the public can feel they can make an honest evaluation of the candidates.”
In a 13-page response to the Times, the governor’s office defended Cuomo’s actions.
“A commission appointed by and staffed by the executive cannot investigate the executive,” his office reportedly said. “It is a pure conflict of interest and would not pass the laugh test.”
But, the Times reported, “The governor’s office interfered with the commission when it was looking into groups that were politically close to him. In fact, the commission never tried to investigate his administration.”
The commission, which was formed July 2, 2013, was unceremoniously disbanded last March—10 months sooner than expected when Cuomo announced its formation.