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Bob McCarthy: Questions, belatedly answered

It’s a “Follow-Up Sunday” for the Politics Column:

• For approximately 18 months, The Buffalo News has posed questions to the state’s Empire State Development Corp. about the 2017 departure of regional Vice President Sam Hoyt.

A former assemblyman and key Western New York ally of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Hoyt unexpectedly resigned his $157,000 a year post in a classic “exploring other opportunities in the private sector” exit. At the time, ESD Commissioner Howard Zemsky commended Hoyt’s efforts in the “Buffalo turnaround” and wished him well. Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul also added kind words.

The News reported the next day that a Buffalo woman had accused Hoyt of sexual harassment and that he paid her a $50,000 settlement in return for dropping further legal action. Hoyt continues to deny Lisa Cater’s allegations, and her efforts (despite the payment) to pursue the case eventually died in Manhattan federal court.

That should spell end of story. Cater says she wants to get on with her life. Ditto for Hoyt, now an Albany lobbyist.

So today’s Politics Column dwells on neither of the principals. But it does return to questions ESD never answered, which were resubmitted way back on Feb. 22 when Cater dropped her legal efforts. Because the emails must have traveled across the state via barge on the frozen Erie Canal, and in an odd twist of fate, ESD provided answers just at the Politics Column arrived deadline on Thursday.

And it appears that ESD officials understood Hoyt’s desire to leave a $157,000 post and a close alliance with the governor, asking no questions about a new post with no clients that did not exist.

According to spokeswoman Kristin Devoe on why Zemsky applauded Hoyt’s record upon his resignation: At the time these comments were made, Empire State Development and Mr. Zemsky, were unaware of allegations or the investigation involving sexual harassment claims against Mr. Hoyt. Additionally, the plaintiff was not an ESD employee and did not notify ESD of her claim against Mr. Hoyt.

On if Hoyt’s superiors were aware he paid Cater in return for a promise to forego further legal action: ESD was not aware of these actions by Mr. Hoyt.

On if the payoff violates any state policy? This matter falls under [Joint Commission on Public Ethics] jurisdiction.

Since The News has in the past noted the questions were ignored, we note again today that at least the state has finally provided answers – sort of.

• Back in February, former State Sen. Marc Panepinto was sentenced to two months in federal prison for promising money or a job to a female staffer if she stayed quiet about his sexual advances in a Manhattan hotel. Last month, the former senator reported to the federal prison at Devens, Mass.

Citing privacy, the Bureau of Prisons would not explain why Panepinto reported to a medical facility rather than a standard penitentiary, though observers note that anything is possible with the federal prison system. He is slated to be released on May 19.

• The bet here is that Erie County Republican Chairman Nick Langworthy will officially announce his candidacy for state party chairman this month. The bet also here is that 10-year incumbent Ed Cox will declare he’s not going anywhere, and then “respond” to kick off an intense leadership battle.

In the meantime, Langworthy is making his case wherever he finds two or more New York Republicans. If it all comes to a vote, state committee members will choose their leader in July.
• Former Assemblyman Erik Bohen is the new director of Medicaid transportation for Catholic Health.

• This coming Thursday would have proven a big day for local Republicans, who were planning a major GOP fund-raiser starring Vice President Pence. There is no question preparations were under way until “scheduling conflicts” forced a delay.

But be assured that local GOP types had already raked in a healthy pile of campaign dollars, and that the crew at national HQ will not forget when they remark their fund-raising calendars.