If Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo ever harbored the national ambitions that some say lie at his political core, the hopes might have centered on his Buffalo Billion economic-development program.
If Cuomo could turn around the poster child for Rust Belt cities, conventional wisdom held, he could make a case of turning around a nation lingering in a stagnant economy.
But now Cuomo faces political challenges far more immediate than running for president someday. Now, the governor must fend off torrents of criticism rushing his way following the federal corruption charges lodged against his closest advisers – some who have dwelled in his inner circle for decades.
The federal charges stem from Cuomo’s efforts to revive Buffalo, Syracuse and other upstate regions. And the accusations touch on trusted confidants Joseph Percoco and Todd R. Howe.
Now, critics and supporters wonder if Cuomo can survive such a devastating development, even in the short term.
“Any time public corruption charges occur, it affects all levels of government,” said Democratic Assemblyman Sean M. Ryan of Buffalo. “It does not reflect well on public institutions and is all the worse when corruption comes from a government you control.”
Carl P. Paladino, the 2010 Republican candidate for governor and a frequent Cuomo critic, said the governor’s situation is dire.
“I don’t see how he can get through this,” said Paladino, contemplating another run for governor in 2018.
And Michael R. Caputo, the onetime staffer to Paladino and later to Donald Trump, also noted the implications of charges that have reached the governor’s doorstep.
“Everybody has focused on Cuomo from the very beginning because it was all rolling uphill,” Caputo said. “They may not bring down the king, but they will bring down his court. And this makes him unelectable.”
Neither chairmen of the state’s major political parties – Republican Edward F. Cox nor Democrat Byron W. Brown, the mayor of Buffalo – returned phone calls seeking comment.
Cuomo escaped direct culpability on the corruption charges facing Howe, Percoco and seven others stemming from his administration’s efforts. At a Manhattan news conference Thursday announcing the results of his investigation, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara noted that Cuomo has not been implicated. But the prosecutor had qualifiers.
“What I can say, at this moment, is that there is no allegation of any wrongdoing or misconduct by the governor anywhere in this complaint,” Bharara said. “That is all I’m going to say.”
Cuomo issued his own statement indicating that he was “saddened and profoundly disappointed” at Percoco’s arrest. He also expressed his “zero tolerance for abuse of the public trust by anyone.”
“If anything, a friend should be held to an even higher standard,” Cuomo said. “Like my father before me, I believe public integrity is paramount. This sort of breach, if true, should be and will be punished.
“This matter is now in the hands of the court, which is exactly where it belongs. My administration will continue to be fully cooperative in the matter as we have been since it began.”
And Caputo, an East Aurora media and political consultant, said the kind of charges implicating former players in the Cuomo administration can only result in additional votes for Trump and others who rail against the status quo.
“The fact that New York State Democrats will be wearing this will be felt all down the ballot,” he said.
“Advantage – Treanor,” he added, referring to Joseph V. Treanor III, the GOP candidate for Erie County district attorney. How the federal case affects Cuomo in the long run has yet to be determined, said Lee M. Miringoff, director of the Marist College Public Policy Institute and a veteran statewide pollster. He noted the governor is not benefiting from corruption charges after portraying himself as Albany’s ethical champion. But he noted that only insiders would recognize the names of Howe and Percoco.
“For the state as a whole, it’s just another corruption case, but it does come closer to the governor,” he said. “Barring further things, Cuomo can live to govern another day. This is not yet as close as ‘Bridgegate’ is for Chris Christie in New Jersey.
“This will be contained or it is the tip of an iceberg,” Mirnigoff added. “If more is in store, it will be much more problematic.”
- A chronology of the Buffalo Billion and the federal probe into it
- Albany corruption: Major misdeeds by New York State officials
- GALLERY: Feds charge Ciminelli and executives
- FBI agent: Email evidence built the Buffalo Billion case
- Corruption charges won’t sink the Buffalo Billion
- Bombshell criminal charges lay out 'pay to play' culture in New York
- Key excerpts from the criminal complaint against Ciminelli, Percoco, Kaloyeros
- Erie County executive bristles at ‘bribe’ charge over road project
- A guide to political corruption probes in New York State
- Why RiverBend required a company with 50 years experience — and then retracted it
- Complaint: Cuomo aide pressures company for $7,500-a-month no-show job for his wife
- The $279 lunch, the private jet and the fishing trip that lured the governor's aide
- Frank Ciminelli II on pay-to-play charges: "We are confident everyone will be vindicated"
- Cuomo on corruption charges: "I am saddened and profoundly disappointed"
- Watch: Bob McCarthy and Dan Herbeck discuss Albany corruption charges
- Ciminelli, two execs charged with bribery, bid rigging
- 'Ziti' was code for bribes in messages between corruption case players
- UB: Ciminelli charges won't affect Jacobs School medical campus project
- Joseph Percoco’s ties to Gov. Cuomo run nearly as deep as blood
- Here's what we know about the corruption charges involving the Buffalo Billion
- AG: Kaloyeros charged for "brazen bid-rigging using taxpayer dollars"
- From the archives: A look at the people accused of criminal corruption