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Co-opting the State Police Cuomo finds no rank-and-file abuses, but sees political influence at the top

Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo's just-completed investigation of New York State Police found no proof of wrongdoing by rank-and-file officers, but it did reveal a pattern of inappropriate, politically tainted actions by the agency. More broadly, though, it underscored that Cuomo is doing what he said he would during his 2006 election campaign: turn his investigatory lights on state government, just as his predecessor trained them on Wall Street.

We hope he continues, because state government is an unholy mess.

The recent investigation traces back to allegations made last year that a rogue state police unit did political dirty tricks for two New York governors. The former trooper at the center of that investigation, Daniel Wiese, was fired from his job at the New York Power Authority last year.

While Cuomo found no evidence of such a unit or any rank-and-file wrongdoing, his investigation found that top police officials let political considerations guide inappropriate decisions. Among them were protecting an upstate congressman from allegations about a domestic dispute by sanitizing the police account and providing security for baseball player Darryl Strawberry while he was in the hospital. The report says Wiese deleted e-mails and removed documents from his office.

We're pleased Cuomo is following through on his 2006 promise to investigate state agencies, including the Legislature. He also has pulled back the covers on the Legislature by pressuring leaders to provide information for his public integrity Web site, called Project Sunlight (www.sunlightny.com). The site allows users to track seven state databases -- including campaign financing, lobbying, agency contracts, member items and legislation -- and the links between them.

As just about any given day's headlines show, though, if the goal is an ethical and honorable state government, plenty of work remains. Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada refuses to file legally required campaign finance reports. So does Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples, D-Buffalo. No one in either of those chambers seems to care very much. Maybe Cuomo does. The Senate can't bring itself to pass a decent ethics law. A few appropriate investigations might help change members' minds.
It is plainly easier to rack up victories as attorney general than it is in a traditional political office, such as that of governor. Former attorney general -- and former governor -- Eliot L. Spitzer found that out when legislators weren't as easy to roll as Wall Street leaders. Why? An attorney general is a prosecutor, not an administration, and in some cases -- such as this one, a referral from the governor's office -- can issue subpoenas. A governor can issue only condemnations.

It is said Cuomo also wants to be governor. If he gets there, he too will find it's harder to exercise those levers of power. Meanwhile, New Yorkers have reason to be pleased with the way he's operating the ones he controls now.

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