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Just before primary, taxpayer-funded mailer praises Cuomo

ALBANY – New York taxpayers just footed the tab for a well-timed postcard sent by the Cuomo administration that praises Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo with a niche set of voters: saltwater anglers.

Just a couple weeks before voters go to the poll to choose between Cuomo and activist Cynthia Nixon in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, the state Department of Environmental Conservation dispatched a postcard praising Cuomo for taking “unprecedented action” to expand artificial reefs off Long Island that will be popular with people who fish.

How many people got the taxpayer-funded mailing? The Cuomo administration won’t say.

But the state-maintained database the agency got the names and addresses from – the recreational marine registry – boasted more than 332,000 residents, according to the agency’s own online statistics.

How much did the printing and mailing cost? The administration also won’t reveal that information.

Cuomo, who spends time saltwater fishing off Long Island and often posts photos of his catches, has held numerous public events over the months promoting the state’s construction of a reef just off the state’s Atlantic coast. He recently gave a magazine reporter doing a campaign profile of Cuomo a ride in a state helicopter to show off the reef area.

One government watchdog was sharply critical of the taxpayer-financed mailing and its election season timing by Cuomo’s agency. “I think it’s an abuse and it’s highly questionable," said E.J. McMahon, research director at the Empire Center for Public Policy.

“It takes a lot to make the Legislature look good, but I think he’s exceeded it by doing this so close to an election. It’s so boldly self-promotional," he added.

The reefs are being bolstered by recycled materials from the former Tappan Zee Bridge in Rockland and Westchester counties, as well as mothballed Erie Canal vessels.

“The largest expansion of New York’s artificial reefs in history," the postcard, received over the weekend, blared in all-capitalized letters.

A state DEC spokeswoman said the mailing was done “to raise awareness of the state’s efforts to restore marine habitats and enhance recreational opportunities through the expansion of the state’s artificial reef network." She said the “language and mailing comply with all applicable rules and regulations.’’

The state said the mailing was sent to “members” of the marine registry.

People who fish in saltwater areas are required to register with the state; since 2011, the state has not charged for the saltwater license that covers coastal area off Long Island and tidal areas south of the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge downstate.

In 2016-2017, the agency reported that 322,000 residents held a recreational marine license; another 33,000 were nonresidents.

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