|NYSNYS NEWS: Cuomo gives final SOS2017 speech at SUNY Albany, where Poly is at center of corruption scandal. He promises ethics reforms.|
|Video of GOP Chair Ed Cox: https://youtu.be/fxu4K1PSKew|
By Kyle Hughes
ALBANY, N.Y. (January 11) -- Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivered his sixth and final State of the State speech Wednesday at SUNY Albany, whose spin-off Poly campus is at the center of the corruption scandal that has claimed some of his most trusted aides.
Corruption "has happened in the Legislature, both houses, it's happened in the state comptroller's office, it's happened in my own office," Cuomo said of the investigations and prosecutions that have thrown state government into turmoil in recent years.
"We have to say to the people of this state, we get it," he said. "People will do bad things. That's the nature of humanity. But we are going to have as many precautions as possible and when someone does something wrong, we're going to make sure they get punished to the full extent of the law."
Those facing federal charges include former SUNY Poly President Alain Kaloyeros, accused of rigging bids to favor companies that are Cuomo's biggest campaign donors upstate; and Joe Percoco, his former right-hand man and political gate-keeper accused of taking bribes from an energy company angling for a state agency decision that would have meant millions in future profits.
A third figure involved with SUNY, Kaloyeros and Percoco -- disgraced former lobbyist Todd Howe -- has pleaded guilty to all charges and is a cooperating witness. Howe is a longtime political and personal aide to Cuomo and his late father Mario.
Cuomo made only glancing reference to SUNY Poly in Wednesday's presentation, mentioning a homeland security program started there as one of his accomplishments. He did not address accusations that contracts for massive building projects involving SUNY in Buffalo, Syracuse and Albany were tainted by corruption as U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara has charged.
In introductory remarks, Cuomo was praised as a "champion" of the SUNY system by departing Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, and received one of the biggest ovations of the day when he cited his recent proposal to make SUNY and CUNY tuition-free for students whose families earn less than $125,000 a year.
"This governor has been a tremendous partner to me personally and I just wanted to thank you governor in front of all these people," Zimpher said.
The UAlbany speech capped a week Cuomo said was outreach to the public and critics said was a taxpayer-paid campaign junket. The six speeches around the state were scheduled after Cuomo cancelled the traditional State of the State speech to a joint session of the Legislature in Albany.
As with previous speeches, State GOP Chair Ed Cox was outside the hall to criticize the event as a political charade to cover up Cuomo's problems.
"I wanted to break the model that I'm there to talk to politicians," Cuomo said Tuesday, opening a speech that rehashed many of the same topics he talked about in speeches this week in New York City, Buffalo and three other communities.
He said it was vital to restore voter confidence in state government, flashing a PowerPoint slide that declared one bad apple spoils the bunch.
Another slide told viewers "We have done amazing work."
He promised to pursue ethics reforms as the 2016 session that got underway this month moves towards its conclusion in June. The list included items previously rejected by legislators, including constitutional amendments to limit outside income and impose term limits. He also wants taxpayers to finance election campaigns and create a blackout periods during which state contractors cannot make political contributions to state officials.
Cuomo, who is gearing up to run for a third term in office in 2018, ran through a litany of what he described as his big accomplishments. He said the state was economically stronger than when he took office in 2011, and fairer to workers thanks to the 2016 passage of both a minimum wage hike and a family leave mandate on businesses.
Cuomo also spoke at length about a walking trail he proposed at in a speech Tuesday at SUNY Purchase. He showed drawing of the new convention center going up in Albany, the Schenectady gambling casino opening next month, and tourism in Lake George.
He endorsed spending $15 million to build a new Amtrak train station in Schenectady, and described in detail his plans to improve the airport in Plattsburgh. The North Country was one of the areas of the state Cuomo did not deliver State of the State speeches in, along with the Mohawk Valley, the Southern Tier and the Fingers Lakes regions.
Cuomo's Albany speech followed one earlier Wednesday at the Onondaga County Convention Center in Syracuse, where the region's state legislative delegation did not attend.
In Syracuse, Cuomo announced a transportation study of of the decaying I-81 highway that runs through the city and money to improve the Syracuse Airport. He also signaled support for allowing more farmers to grow hemp, an non-drug agricultural product banned because of its association with marijuana.