ALBANY – Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s memory failed him Tuesday when he said he believed Steve Pigeon, a longtime political ally and former advisor to the governor, never worked for government.
Pigeon was the counsel to former Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada in 2010 when Cuomo, then the attorney general, was investigating allegations that would eventually help to end the political career of Espada.
In Niagara Falls on Tuesday, Cuomo appeared to try to distance himself from Pigeon, the former Erie County Democratic Party chairman who last month was indicted on nine separate charges, including bribery and extortion, in a scandal involving now-former state judge John A. Michalek.
Cuomo said Pigeon was helpful to him during his first run for governor in 2001, which ended in him withdrawing from the Democratic primary race in 2002.
“He supported me in 2001,’’ Cuomo said Tuesday, adding, “which I appreciated at the time.
“I’ve heard about the indictment, and justice should be done, and we have zero tolerance for anyone who has broken the law in any way,’’ Cuomo said.
Asked about a recent New York Post column that outlined a number of ways Pigeon had influence with Cuomo and his administration, Cuomo said “that story was not correct.’’
“He was never part of the administration. He never worked for my administration. He never worked in government as far as I know,’’ Cuomo added.
Pigeon was one of the architects of a short-lived coup in 2009 in which Espada brokered a power-sharing deal that brought the Republicans back into power. When Espada re-joined his Democratic colleagues in July that year, Pigeon was hired as his $150,000-a-year counsel.
Just nine months later, Cuomo brought a civil suit against Espada, alleging he and others stole more than $14 million from a Bronx-based health care clinic corporation that he founded. Cuomo told reporters he expected criminal charges were likely against Espada.
“Stay tuned,’’ he said at the time.
Later that year, federal prosecutors indicted Espada, who was found guilty and went to prison.
In 2013, The Buffalo News reported on Pigeon’s growing influence with the Cuomo administration. Cuomo, facing re-election in 2014, relied on Pigeon for political advice about Western New York, which Cuomo lost badly in his 2010 race, and even on some policy matters, sources said at the time.
Pigeon, by then, had also entered the ranks of major Cuomo political donor. He gave Cuomo $50,000 at his fundraiser birthday bash at the Waldorf-Astoria in December 2012.
The governor more recently backed away from Pigeon after reports surfaced in late 2014 and into 2015 that Pigeon was under investigation. Sources over the months have said that telephone calls made from Western New York executives to staff on Cuomo’s executive chamber staff were greeted, sometimes jokingly, sometimes not, with a unified first response ensuring that the calls had nothing to do with Pigeon.
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who is leading the investigation against Pigeon and the former judge, has said his probe is ongoing. He is also part of the investigation with U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara looking into various economic development projects, including a scuttled student dormitory project at SUNY Polytechnic run Dr. Alain Kaloyeros by one of Cuomo’s top advisors on upstate job creation efforts.