Will Albany Clean Up Its Act?

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    NEWSLETTERS

    NBCNewYork
    Can Cuomo go to Albany and come out smelling like a rose?

    Sisyphus was the mythological king who kept trying to push a huge boulder up a hill -- and it kept rolling down again. He was cursed by the gods.

    In the early days of his administration, I asked the new and accidental governor, David Paterson, whether his inability to persuade the Legislature to enact his program made him feel like the hapless Sisyphus. 

    He laughed and said: “Sometimes.”

    Now, Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic nominee for Governor, has announced a major program of his own, including ethics reform. Will he be able to persuade the Legislature to enact true ethics reform or will he become the latest incarnation of Sisyphus in Albany?

    One of the key proposals in Cuomo’s campaign manifesto, called a “New New York Agenda,” is that government needs to be transparent. It could be a most difficult task.

    The Daily News, in a survey of New York City legislators, has just found that -- although, three months ago, they voted to disclose how much they make in outside activities --- most refuse to do so. Of 90 sitting members of the city delegation, 63 declined to reveal their outside income.

    Cuomo wants tough new ethics standards and disclosure requirements. And he calls for a constitutional convention if necessary to make changes immediately because, as he says, “we cannot wait any longer for the state legislature to act.”

    Caitlin Ginley of the Center for Public Integrity in Washington told me Cuomo’s proposal on ethics and personal disclosure are “a step in the right&

    Ms. Ginley says Cuomo sees this campaign as an opportunity to enact reforms.

    I asked Blair Horner of New York’s Public Interest Research Group, whether he thought the Cuomo agenda would bring real reforms.

    “Until we see a bill,” he said, “it’s hard to say. What does full disclosure of outside income mean? 

    "Does it mean clients will have to be listed? We like Cuomo’s idea that there should be independent investigators to root out corruption.”

    When he announced his candidacy last Saturday, Cuomo put himself on a collision course with the Legislature -- demanding that it make ethics changes, including disclosing outside income and putting the re-drawing of legislative districts in the hands of an independent panel. Cuomo also advocated an outside ethics monitor.

    The details of all these proposals are somewhat murky. Blair Horner says: “The devil is in the details. Reading about some of these reforms was music to my ears. I like the song. The question is: will the next governor, whoever he is, get the Legislature to sing along?”

    The Democrats hold their state convention this week. The Republicans will be holding their meeting next week.

    In an era when Albany has been swept by scandal after scandal, it’s good that Cuomo has started a conversation about ethics and other needed reforms. New Yorkers have become fed up with an Albany in which major leaders of both parties have been convicted of crimes.

    It will be interesting to see whether the delegates of the two major parties embrace the desperate need for reform. It’s an opportunity. But, as every voter knows, New York has missed many opportunities.