Ethics charges continued to be exchanged in the race for governor on Thursday, with Rep. Lee Zeldin once again criticizing Gov. Kathy Hochul for a campaign donor having business before the state.
At the same time, Democrats continued to press Zeldin over a failed effort by Republicans to give him an additional ballot line this November that is reportedly being investigated by the Albany County district attorney's office.
All this comes against the backdrop of Albany's latest version of an official ethics watchdog trying to get its sea legs under it and begin policing a state government that is no stranger to corruption.
Zeldin has sought to highlight the overlap of Hochul's donor and state contractor, who received a lucrative deal to provide COVID-19 test kits to the state as New York was preparing to ramp up supplies during the spread of the highly contagious omicron variant.
"There needs to be oversight restored in Albany," Zeldin said on Thursday in Rochester. "We need to clean house in Albany."
Hochul has insisted no donation has ever influenced government decisions. She has also defended the push to get as many test kits as possible for schools to keep kids in classrooms last year as the state was preparing for a spike in COVID-19 cases.
"I was giving daily reports to all of you on my efforts to secure test kits," Hochul said this week to reporters. "I would do that all over again. We needed to get people protected."
Democrats, meanwhile, have highlighted the botched effort to revive the Independence Party ballot line for Zeldin to run this November under the state's fusion ballot law. Elections officials denied petitions after multiple duplicate copies of signatures were found.
Malfeasance in Albany is nothing new, and generations of lawmakers and ethics watchdogs have struggled with ways to bolster oversight with true independence.
The competing ethics questions come as a new commission meant to oversee ethics in state government has faced early struggles. NYPIRG's Blair Horner said appointments to the panel have been slow.
"The new agency has a rough time because they got structured in a way that makes it hard for them to operate," Horner said. "The governor and the legislative leaders have not really moved quickly to fill the commission itself."
The new commission is meant to replace the troubled and defunct Joint Commission on Public Ethics. Critics alleged the old commission lacked transparency and failed to investigate powerful people.
"They should be doing everything they can to be as open as possible because they have a steep hill to climb to restore public confidence in the ethics of Albany," Horner said.
And already the commission is subject to a lawsuit. State Senate Minority Leader Robert Ortt's pick to serve on the comimssion was rejected, he says, because of a past history of speaking to the media and criticizing decisions on the old ethics watchdog.
"This is more of a — what do you want to call it — a blue ribbon, check the box committee to make us feel good that we're doing something different," Ortt said, "when this will be as toothless as the last commission based on what I'm seeing."