Cuomo: Lawmakers Don't Want "Real Ethics Reform"

By Michael Gormley
|  Thursday, May 12, 2011  |  Updated 7:56 AM EDT
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Governor Andrew Cuomo says New York legislators don't want real ethics reform.

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In his harshest criticism yet of New York's Legislature, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday that lawmakers don't want "real ethics reform" despite years of scandal, and he threatened to investigate lawmakers if they don't pass a tough law.

The public throw-down amid closed-door negotiations over an ethics bill prompted Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos to issue his own warning. Skelos said Cuomo was approaching the steamroller technique that helped sink former Democratic Gov. Eliot Spitzer

"It didn't work as we saw with Governor Spitzer," Skelos told YNN's "Capital Tonight" in an interview to be aired Wednesday night. "I'm a firm believer in consensus, talking, working things through ... It's just not dictates from the governor as to what he wants."

The day in which the image of goodwill between the popular Democratic governor and the Legislature took its first big hit began with Cuomo's Internet video message.

"Not surprisingly, the Legislature doesn't want to pass real ethics reform," Cuomo said.

In a news conference later, he said, "If a law is not passed, then I will appoint a Moreland Commission," a reference to an historic anti-corruption panel. "It is unacceptable to have no progress on ethics."

He said if an ethics bill isn't passed by the June 20 end of the legislative session, he will appoint an investigative commission.

Scott Reif, spokesman for the Senate's Republican majority, said the Legislature has been working on ethics reform.

"We are committed to a consensus ethics bill ... a negotiated bill will be put before both houses and pass," he said.

Reif said negotiations continue with Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

"As the Speaker has indicated, we have an agreement with the governor on an ethics bill that will include full disclosure of outside income and are committed to seeing it enacted into law this session," said Silver spokesman Michael Whyland.

Neither Silver nor Cuomo would make public any of the drafts or specific ethics proposals being negotiated behind closed doors by the GOP majority in the Senate and Democratic majority in the Assembly.

"It's not our conference that's holding it up!" said Assembly Republican leader Brian Kolb. He said he's ready to again propose bills "to ensure New York state has the toughest ethics laws in the nation."

Senate Democratic spokesman, Austin Shafran, called the Republican majority "the stumbling block to ethics reform."

Cuomo scoffed at Skelos and Silver when they insisted a deal was near.

"It's either passed or it's not passed," Cuomo said, noting ethics reform has been proposed for a decade without substantive improvement. Failure to pass it this year, he said, would be "total failure of elected service."

But the governor said he was hopeful a bill would pass.

The Moreland Commission is one of New York's historic anti-corruption panels, with subpoena power and substantial investigative resources. Within the last four years, former Senate majority leaders, Republican Joseph Bruno and Democrat Pedro Espada Jr., have been charged by federal agents with corruption. Former Gov. Eliot Spitzer, a Democrat, resigned amid a prostitution investigation and several other lawmakers have been prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office in an unprecedented string of corruption cases.

Cuomo, the former attorney general, also investigated government corruption.

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