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NYSNYS NEWS: Cuomo ducks reporters in first public appearance since ex-aides, donors indicted on corruption charges a week ago.
Castro-Cuomo: Gov. Andrew Cuomo and HUD Secretary Julian Castro at Proctors on Tuesday -- Executive Chamber photo via Flickr

By Kyle Hughes

SCHENECTADY, N.Y. (November 29) -- Gov. Andrew Cuomo ducked reporters after a stop here Tuesday, his first public appearance since several of his former top aides and campaign donors were indicted on corruption charges a week ago.

Surrounded by State Police bodyguards, Cuomo left quickly after speaking at a morning event at Proctors Theater with Julian Castro, President Obama's outgoing secretary of Housing and Urban Development, the same post Cuomo held under President Clinton.

Cuomo has had nothing to say about the indictments beyond a brief statement his office issued last week.

"As I said two months ago when the US Attorney first made this case public, this is a profoundly sad situation for me personally," Cuomo said in a written statement given to reporters. "Now the justice system must take its course, and any of those found guilty of abusing the public's trust should and will be punished.  Changes need to be made to restore faith at every level of government. My administration has taken a number of steps in the past several months to reform the procurement process, and has proposed additional measures for the Legislature to take up when they return."

Tuesday, press aide Rich Azzopardi said Cuomo had to leave but would try to take questions from reporters in the next few days. Tuesday was Cuomo's first public appearance since November 20, when he gave a speech at a New York City church criticizing President-elect Donald Trump's stance on illegal immigration.

Cuomo's former top aide Joe Percoco, former SUNY Poly President Alain Kaloyeros, and a number of business executives vying for state contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars were indicted November 22 on felony charges that could send them to prison for years.

The charges grew out of what prosecutors say was a conspiracy to fix state contracts in exchange for bribes and campaign donations. A lobbyist with longtime times to the Cuomo family has already pleaded guilty to all charges and is cooperating with prosecutors.

Cuomo hasn't has held a formal press conference in Albany in more than a year, and hasn't taken any questions from reporters who cover state government in Albany since last spring. He appears to have had just four Q&A's in Albany this year, the longest lasting 26 minutes outdoors at the Court of Appeals in February.

Tuesday's event was nothing out of the ordinary for Cuomo, who since August has been holding a series of regional sustainability economic development conferences for local government officials and nonprofits looking for government money.

He praised his administration's use of taxpayer money to encourage improvements in upstate communities, where he said the economy "has been terrible for decades," one of this signature themes since taking office in 2011.

"It drives the conservatives crazy because it is antithetical to the purest conservative belief," Cuomo said taxpayer funding for local projects. "The purest conservative belief is government does not work, government cannot supplement what the private sector has left behind and abandoned. And government cannot correct poor people problems or poor place problems. The only thing government can do is spend taxpayer money and make it worse."

Cuomo credited HUD and various programs he has put into place as government with helping poor people become more prosperous.

Castro alluded to the election of Donald Trump, saying that any uncertainty about policy changes to come should not overshadow the progress made by President Obama over the past eight years.

"Whatever uncertainties there are about future federal leadership in housing and urban development, I believe your commitment is strong and enduring and that this spirit and initiative will continue to yield results that will benefit everyone in this region and across this state," Castro said.

Castro, the former mayor of San Antonio, has been mentioned as a potential national candidate someday. Cuomo is gearing up for a 2018 re-election campaign for a third term.