It was probably just a matter of time before Republican Marc Molinaro used the Tesla solar plant at Riverbend for a "corruption tour" backdrop in his Republican campaign against Democratic Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
And it was just as inevitable that Cuomo would fire back, launching a new television ad also on Friday that accuses the Dutchess County executive of playing favorites with a local company that hired his wife.
On the day after top Cuomo aide Joseph Percoco was sentenced to six years in prison for accepting bribes from executives of companies conducting business with the state, both major candidates for governor tried to outdo each other in highlighting government actions they say don't pass the smell test.
The corruption combination underscores the major role Molinaro is assigning to the Percoco case as well as to charges stemming from Cuomo's Buffalo Billion economic development program, the ensuing bid-rigging charges at Riverbend, and how the governor is responding.
The day began with Molinaro appearing with three local assemblymen outside the Tesla facility built with $750 million in state money, which he criticized as "overpromised and underperforming" because job predictions have yet to be realized (though Cuomo's office points out the company has reached its first hiring threshold). He was also quick to link the bid-rigging convictions against local executives involved in its construction with a Cuomo administration he said looks the other way.
He raised familiar questions about why the governor was not aware of the actions of his "top lieutenant" or those of others connected to his administration who have been convicted of corruption.
"It's one more indication that over the last seven years this governor has delivered the most corrupted administration in America," Molinaro said. "The governor continues to operate a state government that thinks it's better than the people it serves."
Molinaro recited a litany of situations that he says constitute ethical lapses such as a primary season dedication ceremony for the new Tappan Zee Bridge (now the Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge) despite dangerous conditions at the site, and an election mailer criticized as anti-Semitic that was approved by a top aide and aimed at Democratic opponent Cynthia Nixon. The official, Larry Schwartz, acknowledged approving the mailer accusing Nixon of "not standing strong for our Jewish communities" but said he had not read all of it.
"Here in New York it's just another day in Andrew Cuomo's Albany," Molinaro said. "It's that arrogance that has broken faith and trust. It's that arrogance that is stealing from New Yorkers."
He again promised reforms such as term limits, ending "pay to play" state contracts, reforming the state investigative ethics panel to make it more independent, and reconvening a "real Moreland Commission" to probe public corruption.
And in Molinaro's second campaign stop in Buffalo in a week, he jabbed at the governor for his scarcity in Western New York following the Buffalo Billion trials and conviction.
"It's almost as if the governor has walked off the field in the middle of a game," he said. "Who does that?"
But Cuomo countered with his own ethical charges against Molinaro. He released a new ad accusing the Dutchess County executive's administration of providing tax breaks to an architectural firm that employed his wife.
"Marc Molinaro handed over hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax breaks to Tinkelman Corporation, a county contractor," the new Cuomo ad states. "Then Molinaro personally profits when Tinkelman hires a member of Molinaro’s family. Molinaro then handed Tinkelman county contracts worth tens of thousands of dollars."
The ad refers to a 2015 contract approved by the Dutchess County Industrial Development Agency for tax breaks to the firm, as well as the part-time marketing position his wife — Corrine Adams — later secured. Molinaro said Friday during his Tesla appearance that nothing inappropriate ever occurred, labeling the ad a "distraction."
He acknowledged Tinkelman as a campaign contributor ($6,000 over nine years), but said the deal with the company was signed before he was married in 2015. He also acknowledged amending required ethical disclosures, but said he complied with all requirements, as did the process of awarding the contract.
"It was merely the product of the lowest responsible bid," he said, adding he had no direct oversight of the IDA contract as county executive.
Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown, the state Democratic chairman, continued the Cuomo campaign’s assault on Molinaro’s connections to the project, which he called "the worst of pay-to-play politics."
"Molinaro’s conflicts are listed on his JCOPE disclosure," Brown said. "Did he recuse himself or notify others of the conflict in accordance with the Public Officers Law? Will he release his recusal? Did the Dutchess officials turn a blind eye or was it political cronyism at its worst?" Brown asked.
"I am calling for an immediate criminal investigation into Molinaro's conduct to personally enrich himself at taxpayer's expense," he added.