With Albany, N.Y.'s legislative session winding down, it appears that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is moving into campaign mode; focusing on his 2018 gubernatorial re-election and a 2020 presidential run.
One telltale sign was his appointment of his communications director, Melissa DeRosa, to the top executive chamber job, secretary to the governor.
The DeRosa appointment is an unusual one. Generally, the job doesn’t go to a public relations flack but to a long-time associate or friend of the governor. Someone who has his complete trust, understands the workings of the capital, and is skilled at cutting deals with legislative leaders in the governor’s name.
Ms. DeRosa doesn’t fit that mold. She’s a relative newcomer to Cuomoland and worked as deputy chief of staff for a Cuomo political foe, State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.
Other reasons it’s an odd choice: Ms. DeRosa is the daughter of Giorgio DeRosa, the head Albany lobbyist for Bolton-St. Johns.
Mr. DeRosa’s website boasts that the Times Union (of Albany) named him "one of the best lobbyists in town." He takes credit for "successful procurement projects, including the N.Y.S. Prescription Drug Program, valued at $1 billion per year, and the N.Y.S. Mental Health Contract, valued at $120 million per year."
Also, Ms. DeRosa’s husband, Matthew Wing, heads up public relations for Uber’s northeastern U.S. region, and is registered as a company lobbyist.
Coincidentally, the state budget enacted last month, empowers Uber to market its transportation services upstate.
Although a spokeswoman for the governor has stated that Ms. DeRosa is complying with the public officers law recusal policy and has met with the Joints Commission on Public Ethics "to ensure that even the appearance of impropriety is avoided," I cannot help being a bit skeptical. After all, conflicts in the Cuomo administration are not unprecedented.
The governor’s pet project, the Buffalo Billion, has been riddled with scandals and two of his long-time political confidants, Joe Percoco and Todd Howe, were indicted by the federal government for allegedly seeking "to enrich themselves through bribes using their positions to help particular companies receive 'hundreds of millions of dollars in state contracts and other official state benefits.'" (The New York Times, Sept. 22, 2016).
Another out of character Cuomo appointment: naming Maria Comella as his chief of staff.
Ms. Comella has been a Republican political campaign marketing and communications consultant. She has worked for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former President George W. Bush, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. In 2016, she served as Christie’s "messaging officer for his official presidential campaign."
Albany political wags maintain that Cuomo had to hire an out-of-state Republican operative because most talented New York Democrats refuse to work for the control freak governor known to browbeat his staff members.
Because Ms. DeRosa and Ms. Comella have strong communications backgrounds and are not the classic "inside Cuomoland" types running the executive chamber, my guess is they will focus on enhancing the governor’s image — on a national level.
Promoting Cuomo, however, will be a difficult task. It will take Herculean efforts to transform the governor’s mediocre record into a platform for a presidential candidacy.
Let’s face it, after six years in office, Cuomo’s so-called pro-business agenda has failed to jump start New York’s economy. His signature initiative Start-up New York has expended over $50 million in taxpayer ad campaigns and has created in three years only 772 jobs.
The New York Post has reported the program "will no longer require businesses to report annually on how many jobs they’ve actually produced" to avoid releasing future embarrassing results.
A study released in April of this year, by the prestigious W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, concluded that New York economic development programs — which awarded $8.25 billion in subsidies in 2015 alone — are the most expensive in the nation and the least cost effective.
And the American Legislative Exchange Council’s "Rich State, Poor State" annual reports, have consistently rated New York during the Cuomo years, as the least economically competitive state in the nation because of high taxes and oppressive regulations.
I do not envy the task Cuomo’s new political apparatchiks face. As the proverb says, "you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear."
George J. Marlin, a former executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, is the author of "The American Catholic Voter: Two Hundred Years of Political Impact." He also is a columnist for TheCatholicThing.org and the Long Island Business News. Read more reports from George J. Marlin — Click Here Now.
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