Paterson names new leader of state police

Gov. David Paterson made his first significant executive branch change Monday by nominating Harry Co

Gov. David Paterson made his first significant executive branch change Monday by nominating Harry Corbitt to succeed Preston Felton as head of the New York State Police.

“I realized the tremendous importance of addressing this issue first,” Paterson said at a New York City news conference with Corbitt.

Corbitt had a 25-year state police career, retiring as a colonel and one of four deputy superintendents in 2004. Until 2007 he was head of security for the Albany City School District, where he oversaw the installation of metal detectors.

Felton had served as state acting superintendent throughout the governorship of Eliot Spitzer, who resigned earlier this month. Felton announced his intention to retire last week, and issued a statement Monday supporting Corbitt’s nomination.

Felton was criticized in a report issued last year by Attorney General Andrew Cuomo regarding efforts by the Spitzer administration to monitor and discredit Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, R-Brunswick. According to Monday’s New York Times, Spitzer himself was fully involved in those efforts, although the former governor had denied it and blamed aides.

Corbitt’s nomination to the $136,000-per-year position got a broadly positive response, including from the Senate majority. Bruno spokesman Scott Reif said “We are very impressed with his resume. … Our hope is that we would be able to expedite this nomination.”

The job requires Senate confirmation. Spitzer never submitted Felton’s nomination to the Senate.

Two former state police superintendents, Wayne Bennett and Thomas Constantine, said Corbitt appears to be a good choice.

“He’s a dependable person,” said Bennett, who worked with Corbitt more closely than did Constantine. “He’s a very strict person, which frankly I like,” added Bennett, who is currently serving as the city of Schenectady’s public safety commissioner. “I think he’ll do a wonderful job,” he said.

Constantine said Corbitt was “a very hard worker, very disciplined. He had a lot of respect for the state police and the institution of the state police.”

Bennett and Constantine also had praise for Felton, except for his role in last year’s “Troopergate” affair. Paterson also praised Felton.

Constantine said he blames Spitzer more for what he did to the state police than for the prostitution scandal that brought him down. He cited “the incredible amount of damage [Spitzer] has done to the reputation of the state police.”

Asked at the news conference about “Troopergate,” Corbitt said all he knows is what he reads in the papers. “I do know,” he added, “that whenever politics and police mix, it’s a bad mixture.”

Daniel DeFedericis, president of the state troopers Police Benevolent Association, also praised the nomination, and said the PBA has had a good working relationship with Corbitt. DeFedericis also praised Felton, saying he upgraded the equipment used by troopers. Improving training should be a priority for the new superintendent, he said.

DeFedericis also referred to Corbitt’s role in the Albany school system, saying he hopes this will lead him to resist a current plan in the Spitzer-Paterson budget to transfer troopers out of schools.

In Corbitt’s state police career, his roles included noncommissioned officer in the charge of the Basic School at the State Police Academy, and major in charge of Troop T at the New York State Thruway. In 1994, he became staff inspector for employee relations focusing on the issue of racial profiling. He became deputy superintendent for employee relations in 1997, and deputy superintendent in charge of the Internal Affairs Bureau until he retired in 2004. Bennett said Corbitt had to retire because he was 57, but that age provision does not apply to superintendents.

Corbitt was a vice president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives. Felton and Paterson also are black.

From 1966 to 1972, Corbitt served in the U.S. Army in the Military Intelligence Division. He is the recipient of the Bronze Star medal for meritorious achievement in ground operations against hostile forces.

Ted Cook, current head of security for the Albany School District, said Corbitt “did an excellent job here.” One thing he did, Cook said, was focus on the main entrances, making sure doors were locked when they were supposed to be.

Paterson’s press office would not say who advised the governor to pick Corbitt, or what is the current status of other senior officials, such as Division of Criminal Justice Services Commissioner Denise O’Donnell, who were asked to submit pro forma resignation letters after Spitzer resigned.

Felton’s resignation letter, Paterson said, had been submitted prior to that gubernatorial request.

O’Donnell spokesman John Caher said she was traveling Monday and unavailable for comment.

Paterson spokeswoman Jennifer Givner said O’Donnell “has submitted a letter of resignation for consideration as all senior staff and agency heads have. The resignation is only enacted upon acceptance.”

Categories: Schenectady County

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