Hochul inherits horde of entrenched Cuomo appointees

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Disgraced, ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo may be gone but the long shadow he cast over the New York government empire over a decade — filled with entrenched loyalists — will remain for years.

His replacement, Gov. Kathy Hochul, inherits a massive New York bureaucracy filled with key Cuomo appointees over several major agencies, including SUNY and CUNY, the Port Authority, MTA, the Public Service Commission, Empire State Development, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, among other agencies.

In many cases, the Cuomo appointees serve fixed terms and cannot be replaced even if Hochul wants to get rid of them.

Then there are Cuomo’s numerous building projects in the works pushed by his appointees — including what critics slam as the controversial $2.1 billion “wrong way” LaGuardia Airport air train project.

Former Gov. David Paterson — who suddenly became the state’s chief executive when predecessor Eliot Spitzer resigned in a hooker scandal in 2008 — said Hochul has to prevent the bureaucrats hired by predecessors from going rogue on her.

“My advice for a new person is to clean house. You just have to get rid of people. I didn’t address it quickly enough,” Paterson said.

Several of Cuomo's appointees are in the middle of fixed terms and can't be removed by Gov. Hochul.
Several of Cuomo’s appointees are in the middle of fixed terms and can’t be removed by Gov. Hochul.
AP Photo/Seth Wenig

Cuomo’s entrenched lieutenants include:

  • Embattled SUNY Chancellor James Malatras — a longtime Cuomo aide who last year edited both the state Health Department’s discredited COVID-19 nursing home deaths report and Cuomo’s self-congratulatory $5.1 million pandemic memoir — is not going anywhere.

Fifteen of the voting SUNY board of trustees who hired Malatras — at Cuomo’s behest — are Cuomo appointees. Trustees include former Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy, Eric Corngold,who served as Cuomo deputy when he was attorney general; and former Secretary of State Cesar Perales.

“I think James Malatras has done an excellent job as chancellor,” said trustee and retired IBM executive Stanley Litow, citing safety measures put in place at campuses during the pandemic.

SUNY Chancellor James Malatras was questioned in the Assembly Judiciary Committee probe for Cuomo's book.
SUNY Chancellor James Malatras was questioned in the Assembly Judiciary Committee probe for Cuomo’s book.
Photo by Lev Radin/Pacific Press
  • Spencer Freedman, a former deputy director in Cuomo’s state inspector general’s office, also landed at SUNY. He wrote a much-criticized report into a whistleblower’s claim that Cuomo was illegally tipped off about an ethics probe involving former Cuomo confidante and convicted felon Joe Percoco, and is now special counsel and a senior adviser to Chancellor Malatras.

Other notable examples:

  • Cuomo appointee Rick Cotton is the executive director of the Port Authority of NY and NJ and pushing Cuomo’s controversial LaGuardia air train project. Cuomo appointees on the PA’s board of commissioners serve fixed terms, which means Hochul can’t get rid of them unless they agree to resign.
Rick Cotton, the executive director of the Port Authority of NY and NJ, is serving a fixed term.
Rick Cotton, the executive director of the Port Authority of NY and NJ, is serving a fixed term.
James Messerschmidt
  • Among them is Cuomo confidante Steve Cohen — mentioned in Attorney General Letitia James’ sexual harassment report as taking part in strategy sessions to undermine one of the ex-governor’s accusers. He is on the PA board until June 30, 2024.
  • Other board members include Cuomo’s Secretary of State and former El Diario publisher Rosanna Rosada, former economic development adviser Leecia Eve, and Building and Construction Trades Council Gary LaBarbera.
  • At the state’s Empire State Development Corporation, Cuomo allies on the governing board of trustees include former chairman Howard Zemsky, Eric Gertler, a former ESD CEO and former Secretary of State Cesar Perales. At play: Cuomo’s support of the controversial Vornado real estate project to build a network of massive towers around Penn Station.
  • Cuomo budget director Robert Mujica, who is at least serving through Hochul’s 45-day transition period, sits on both the MTA and CUNY board of trustees and is an ex-officio member of nearly 30 other entities.
  • Cuomo COVID-19 adviser Larry Schwartz also sits on the MTA board through Jan. 1, 2023.
MTA board member and former Cuomo aide Larry Schwartz has said that he won't resign from his position.
MTA board member and former Cuomo aide Larry Schwartz has said that he won’t resign from his position.
Photo by John Lamparski/NurPhoto via Getty Images
  • The Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities, is packed with Cuomo aides and allies. The chairman, John Howard, previously worked as a top Cuomo aide in the executive chamber.
  • Cuomo appointed another former top aide, John Maggiore, to the commission earlier this year. Commissioners make $120,000 a year.
  • Elkan Abramowitz, the lawyer whose firm is representing Cuomo and former aides in the COVID nursing home death cover-up investigations, is a Cuomo trustee on the Long Island Power Authority’s governing board.
  • The Joint Commission on Public Ethics has long been criticized for blocking probes into Cuomo or his inner circle. Cuomo appoints six of the 14 commissioners and three are still on JCOPE — Robert Cohen, Colleen DiPirro and William Fischer. Three other Cuomo appointees recently resigned.

Cuomo resigned after a state Attorney Letitia James issued a devastating investigative report concluding the three-term Democrat sexually harassed 11 women. Cuomo denied the accounts prior to his forced departure. He faced impeachment and likely removal from office if he refused to step down.

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