All throughout the fall, the most common thing I heard people say was ``I can’t wait for the election to be over.’’ Based on that, you would have thought that Election Day should have brought us calm and relief to the country.
Well, the election is over, and nobody seems relieved. The votes have been counted and the winners declared, but the damage from a bitter, ugly campaign remains. The voters entered this electoral season unhappy. Feelings of insecurity brought on by an unfair economy dominated. These feelings were compounded by growing doubts about the integrity of their government to actually represent them as opposed to big money interests.
The campaign did nothing to allay those fears. In fact, it got worse. Before the race was over, the campaign embroiled the nation’s justice system itself – the institution we count on to be the impartial guardian of our democracy.
That fear of real problems, combined with mistrust about the government, is the toxic combination that this nation now faces.
Sadly, New York is no exception. Our state has suffered a few long years of seemingly endless scandals at all levels: county governments, city governments, legislative leaders in the Senate and Assembly, in the judiciary, the NYPD, and even in the Executive.
Serious misconduct has been alleged and in some cases it has been proven.
These scandals have affected the state from Niagara Falls to Montauk Point. Democrats, Republicans, Conservatives, Liberals, Independents – no party or group is immune.
I believe this public trust and integrity issue must be addressed – directly and forthrightly. I don’t believe in denial as a life strategy. I believe you must face your problems, no matter how unpleasant, and do your best to resolve them.
It is time for action, not words.
We need to close loopholes and prevent fraud; apprehend wrongdoers, and punish those who break the law.
The sooner we act, the better. We can take some steps immediately.
Yesterday, the state Inspector General issued a report on mismanagement at the City University of New York. The report detailed allegations of wrongdoing and a lack of management controls.
To me, the larger message of the report was that management failed to understand that taxpayer money deserves the highest protection. Scandal seldom begins with evil, but with temptation, and temptation usually begins with a lack of watchfulness. Honesty is a virtue, but in organizations, it is a culture, and it starts at the top, with leadership.
When leadership forgets this, it’s time to change leadership. I am therefore directing the CUNY Board to review the entire senior management at CUNY, to evaluate how deeply this permissive culture extends, and how extensive a change is necessary. It’s a new day. They must also review all the findings in the IG report and propose immediate solutions.
I direct them to finish their review in 30 days and advise the state IG of their proposed overhaul. The IG office will offer their opinion of the reforms’ completeness and then a plan of action will be undertaken.
There are other steps we can take immediately. The contracting systems at CUNY and SUNY have become the focus of US Attorney and IG inquiries in the past several months. To insure more permanent supervision, I will create and appoint separate Inspector Generals for both SUNY and CUNY. They will be charged with identifying and investigating conflicts of interest, fraud, corruption and abuse. They will review contracts and hiring for both improper and illegal actions. They will look for personal benefit to any executive or legislative employee or improper actions with a third party. They will review all campuses and all affiliated entities. The IGs will have the authority to bring any report of improper conduct directly to law enforcement.
I will also appoint a Chief Procurement Officer for the Executive branch. That person will be charged with reviewing all state contracts, with an eye towards eliminating any wrongdoing, conflicts of interest or collusion. And just so there is no confusion, I do mean all contracts. Any contract or agreement that entails the disbursement of state funds will be subject to review. The Chief Procurement officer will have authority to review any disbursement from the State Division of the Budget. This will include all contracts, grants, executive or legislative disbursements. Any question of collusion, political benefit or personal connections will be thoroughly examined. The Chief Procurement Officer will have investigative and prosecutorial experience, and will be authorized to refer problematic issues directly to law enforcement for further action.
I will order my campaign and my party not to accept campaign contributions from companies once a Request for Proposals has been announced, and for six months following the conclusion for the winner. I believe the other state offices and the legislature should do the same and will propose such a law.
Those are the actions I can take under my own authority. But there is more to do. And to take those steps, I will propose them to the State Legislature. Here is what I will propose.
To end decades of chronic conflicts of interest – both perceived and real – legislators should no longer be allowed to serve two masters. We must enact strict limits on outside income to end chronic conflicts of interests that have plagued the New York State Legislature for many years. If you’re going to be a public servant, you shouldn’t be able to have other interests on the side. I support the Congressional model of a 15 percent outside income cap.
We have seen conflicts of interest in local governments. I propose the JCOPE State Ethics Board be given the wider authority to root out conflicts of interest by local government officials.
Also, all elected officials – state and local – should be required to disclose all sources of income earned by themselves and their spouses.
We still need to enact real campaign finance reform, and public financing for candidates.
We must end the ability of so-called not-for-profit advocacy organizations to elude regulation and to mock New York City’s public finance system, by allowing campaigns access to virtually unlimited money from special interests
These reforms will make a difference. But I also want to be candid on expectations. I cannot tell the people of our state that we can end all fraud or corruption. I was an Assistant District Attorney and I was Attorney General. I’ve handled hundreds of criminal cases. I have seen too much unseemly behavior to be naïve about the power of temptation. There are more than 10,000 governments in this state with more than 300,000 employees. People will commit venal and greedy acts. They will do selfish and, frankly, stupid things. We have seen it throughout history. Virtually every administration in every era has been touched by it. I have seen it myself, and I have been shocked and hurt by it.
But we must do all we can.
There’s an old saying that locks keep honest people honest. That’s very true. And right now, New York needs to replace the locks we have with better ones.
We have no higher priority.
When I was elected, I pledged to do my best to give you a government that works--that gets things done and in which you can trust.
We have made great progress on the first priority – government’s competence and capacity is much, much better. Today state spending is down, taxes are down, budgets are responsible, and we are building a new New York from Buffalo to Long Island. We have led the nation on marriage equality, responsible gun control, raising the minimum wage, and paid family leave. We have tackled many tough problems. I applaud the legislature for their progress and accomplishment.
But the agenda is unfinished. And honestly, no government that does not enjoy the trust of the governed can said to be a success.
We need to change. It won’t be fast, and it won’t be easy. But we can, and must, make this happen.
I understand that what I am proposing would be a massive change. I have no doubt that the political establishment will oppose it. The legislature will say they have passed more ethics reform under me than ever before and that is true. We have passed four ethics laws and we have a tighter system than ever. But it is still not enough. That is understandable. We do not have the public trust.
These are difficult days for all of us. The issues are not just New York issues – they are national issues. The past election cycle has disturbed many. But as I sit at my father's desk I remember what he taught me. There is always a simple truth behind every seemingly complex situation. We just must be willing to see it. The truth is that trust comes before everything else and it must be our highest priority. The truth is that trust in government is the foundation of our system and we must restore it.
The truth is this is a national problem, but it's New York State’s place to lead the way.
As hard as this task will be, I am confident that we will succeed. After all, we’ve done the impossible before. Together, we can do it again. When the stakes are this high, when the cause is this significant, we can do it again.
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