Colby Hamilton, Writer, WNYC News
Colby Hamilton is a general assignment reporter. He originally joined WNYC as a political blogger. He's a proud graduate of the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.
On Fred Dicker's radio show yesterday, Governor Andrew Cuomo responded to some of thecriticism his pick to chair the new JCOPE ethics panel has been receiving. To be fair, many picks for the committee have been catching heat, but chairwoman Janet DiFiore, the Westchester District Attorney, has drawn the editorial equivalent of scandalized eyebrows raising over her role as president of the state's district attorney association.
Questions about her role as a potential Albany lobbyist heading the commission that regulates Albany lobbyists did not sit well with the Governor.
"She is a sitting district attorney, which, by the way, you can't make an appointment to this body that instills more credibility and seriousness than a sitting DA. But as a sitting DA, she's an elected official. As an elected official, she runs for office. She raises money. From lobbyists, from bankers, from lawyers who appear before her, from accountants, from people on the street," Cuomo noted. "Every DA in the state, Attorney General, judges all raise money. But now maybe you couldn't be an ethics chairperson? With, by the way, no criminal jurisdiction, and no civil jurisdiction--a much less impactful position."
The Governor sort of sidestepped the DiFiore-as-potential-lobbyist issue, but what followed gave a bit of insight into why his office operates the way does. As I and others have noted before, the Governor is a master political operator. A significant amount of his work is done out of public sight--something the press has been critical of. The tax reform package is a perfect example: the actual bill wasn't seen by the public, let alone many--most?--lawmakers, until 26 minutes before it was set to be voted on.
But, from the Governor's point of view, getting it done this way--not hammered out day and night, in full view of the public (i.e. the press), having every single person weigh in--was the most effective way. Government worked. If that's the goal--to make government work--sometimes you have to close the door.
You can hear the frustration in Cuomo's voice over the scuttlebutt made over DiFiore. After his breakdown of why he finds the criticism "nonsensical" he gives insight into the belief that defends his pick to chair JCOPE and keeps massive tax overhauls under wraps until less than a half-hour before it gets passed by the state legislature.
Here Cuomo is discussing the impact of the hyper-scrutiny of government and how that affects bringing good people into it:
Why subject yourself to this? Why? Well, I want to make society better. In Albany, in this process? That's part of what I've been battling...
To the extent that we are enhancing the reputation of state government in Albany…that actually helps me in the recruitment process...If good people come then government is actually improved. But part of it is this, just negativity and nonsensical criticism for the sake of criticism.
I'm sure there would be a healthy gap between what the Governor may consider "nonsensical criticism," and what reporters and good government groups see as necessary. Still, it's interesting to see the wheels turning, even if it's just glimpse through a crack in the door.