Lazio Counters New Cuomo TV Ad on Ethics Reform

The gloves come off in the gubernatorial race

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    Some nasty mudslinging broke out Thursday in the race for governor — over ethics.

    Democratic candidate for governor Andrew Cuomo's slick new campaign ad calling for ethics reform in Albany was immediately countered by Republican candidate Rick Lazio with a low-tech ambush video showing Cuomo using a back door at a fundraiser for Rep. Charles Rangel, who's facing House ethics charges.

    State Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs, responding for Cuomo, the state attorney general, shot back: "Republicans should check their facts before they throw mud." Jacobs said Lazio, when he was a Wall Street lobbyist before he started his campaign a year ago, directed his employer, JPMorgan, to contribute $20,000 to Rangel.

    Lazio spokesman David James said the difference is that in the past many people assumed Rangel "was an honest public servant" and said the company couldn't have contributed to a federal campaign under law.

    "Andrew Cuomo's attack dog can't overcome the attorney general's poor judgment to host and toast Charlie Rangel at a political fundraiser knowing what we know now about the ethics charges levied against Rangel," James said.

    Lazio's video, "Runaway," is slightly out of focus and is distributed over the Internet by the Republican's campaign, which has collected a small fraction of the donations to Cuomo.

    Lazio's staff apparently staked out a back door where Cuomo arrived with a staff member and then departed from the campaign fundraiser for Rangel on Wednesday night in Manhattan.

    Hundreds of supporters, including several Democratic leaders, attended the Rangel event at The Plaza hotel. Cuomo's campaign said several used the back door.

    A House ethics panel has accused Rangel, the former Ways and Means Committee chairman, of using official stationery to raise money for a college center bearing his name; delaying tax payments on income on a rental unit in the Dominican Republic; failing to file his financial disclosure statements on time; and operating four rent-stabilized apartments in New York, including one he used as a campaign office.

    Rangel has denied the accusations announced by the ethics panel and has said they contain factual errors.

    Lazio's video came on a day Cuomo released his ad statewide. Cuomo's ad calls ethical behavior in Albany disgraceful and the government dysfunctional.

    The ad seeks support for his proposed 20-point plan to improve ethics in state government. He wants a ban on pay-to-play practices involving lobbyists, who are among the biggest campaign contributors.

    "New Yorkers agree Albany is a mess," the ad states, "Let's take back our government — together."

    Lazio called the ad "two-faced."

    Cuomo said Thursday that the ad, which doesn't mention he's running for governor, is aimed at mobilizing a disgusted public around a plan to improve Albany that will force the Legislature to act.

    He wouldn't say if he would have vetoed the Legislature's own ethics reform package, which was vetoed by Democratic Gov. David Paterson as too weak. Cuomo said he didn't want to "prejudge" a bill that could potentially return to the floors of the Democrat-led Assembly and Senate.

    But Cuomo sided with at least some of Paterson's objections to the bill, saying "self-policing is an oxymoron" and "selective disclosure" of outside business interests doesn't work.

    Republican Carl Paladino, facing Lazio in the Sept. 14 Republican primary, said he would take action against offenders and their pensions, saying Albany's ethics reform bills "are laughably inadequate."

    "Cuomo's new ethics ad blows right back on our conflicted attorney general, who did the walk of shame," Paladino spokesman Michael Caputo said.