Corruption scandals in New York state government have often followed a pattern: A revelation, a resignation and calls for reform.
But in the wake of former Gov. Andrew Cuomo's scandal-scarred end to his decade-long tenure, structural changes are being called for to how New York state government itself is policed.
The saga of the state's Joint Commission on Public Ethics, or JCOPE, has become a prime example of the oversight problems plaguing New York. Critics contend the commission lacks independence and cannot function as an oversight body for the very officials who appoint it.
"What I'm do is turn it upside down and challenge the premise that an entity that is created by elected officials with their own appointees should be charged with investigating those individuals," Gov. Kathy Hochul on Wednesday said.
Hochul herself this week came under criticism when she re-appointed a former commissioner to the panel who has ties to Cuomo, though Hochul said the appointment was necessary for the commission to meet and conduct business this week.
The list of grievances for editorial boards and good-government organizatons is long: The commission approved a multi-million dollar book deal for Cuomo last year with nary a question raised in public, it investigated a sexual assault survivor for her advocacy for a proposed measure to designed to help victims, it declined to investigate a close former aide to Cuomo and allegedly leaked information about its decision to Cuomo.
Reform proposals have included completely scrapping the commission and replacing it with a panel that looks more like a commission that investigates wrondgoing in the state's judiciary. But state government has long lagged in policing itself. Republicans like Sen. Anthony Palumbo back reform, but they're worried Democrats could wield too much influence.
"You want them to be independent and ethical, but you certainly don't want, particularly in a state where one party controls one side, they can't go after someone unjustifiably," Palumbo said. "So there has be a balance there. But I agree major changes are needed."
Cuomo still faces myriad state and federal investigations stemming from sexual harassment allegations, his book deal and how his family members received COVID-19 tests when supplies where scrace. Assemblywoman Majorie Byrnes says the state legislative committee investigating Cuomo could release its report by Oct. 1.
"If it has half of what I've read, you should be interested in reading it," Byrnes said recently.
John Kaehny, of the good-government group Reinvent Alban,y said that task has been often left out the federal Department of Justice. Both Sheldon Silver, the former Assembly speaker, and Dean Skelos, the ex-Senate majority leader, were ousted by federal corruption convictions.
"There definitely has to be independent enforcement and the feds are crucial, which is tough given how partisan everything is now," he said.
All taxpayers can pay a price when public money or trust is abused, but Kaehny says corruption can often land heaviest on the poorest.
"The people who suffer the most is the average person, the poor person, who defends on state aid for these things," Kaehny said, "not the rich and powerful."