At an event in Buffalo Friday, Governor Andrew Cuomo defended the economic development project that prompted a criminal investigation and said he knew nothing about the allegations involving some of his closest aides, who are now facing serious criminal charges. Zack Fink filed the following report.
Going to the heart of where a scandal started, Governor Andrew Cuomo fielded questions from Buffalo-area reporters about the sweeping criminal complaint that touches nine people close to the governor, including a friend and confidante for decades, Joe Percoco.
"Joe Percoco has been a longtime friend of mine, longtime friend of my family. I know him about 25 years. My father knew him since he was 19 years old," Cuomo said. "I said my father would be heartbroken if he read that complaint. And no, I had no idea about anything that was contained in that complaint."
Cuomo announced the Buffalo Billion project with much fanfare back in 2012. On Friday, he defended it, saying it has helped turn perceptions of the old rust belt city around.
"The Buffalo Billion, I was saying, is not about projects in the ground and nine individuals who are alleged to have done bad acts," Cuomo said.
Cuomo did announce some substantive changes to the project. The administration and vetting of contracts will be taken away from the state university system and given to the Economic State Development Corporation, which allows much greater oversight.
Critics applauded the move, but say it came far too late.
"What we've got nw is the largest corruption scandal probably in New York State history," said John Kaehny of Reinvent Albany. "I mean, this is an epic, epic disaster for giving out money through the SUNY system and state-controlled nonprofits. And watchdog groups have been flagging this as a giant corruption risk for some time. And everything we thought has come true and much worse."
People who know Percoco say it's disheartening that he referred in emails to illegal cash payments as "ziti," which comes from the Italian mob drama "The Sopranos." Percoco used to work for Cuomo's father, former Governor Mario Cuomo, who was particularly sensitive to negative Italian stereotypes.