Editorial: Making state officials look good is costly

Certainly nothing has really improved
Gov. Andrew Cuomo talks to reporters in the lobby of Trump Tower in January.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo talks to reporters in the lobby of Trump Tower in January.

Earlier this month, the New York Post reported, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s communications director held a conference call with the public relations staff at 55 state agencies warning them all to start doing a better job churning out positive news about the administration — or else.

Almost immediately, the Post reported, the PR flacks obliged, churning out positive press releases on such vital matters as the growing popularity of solar power in New York to a contest for SUNY/CUNY students on “coding.”

Then on Monday, the Siena College Research Institute announced the results of a new poll showing Gov. Cuomo with his highest favorably rating among residents in over two years.

Certainly nothing has really improved that much in New York recently to give Cuomo a popularity boost.

The better numbers might have something to do with a comparison to another New Yorker, the one who happens to occupy the White House.

Seen as a potential 2020 challenger to President Trump, whose popularity numbers hover around the level of prostate exams, Gov. Cuomo might look pretty good in many people’s eyes right about now.

But getting back to those PR people.

Though the relationship between the governor’s shiny new poll numbers and the directive for the state’s public relations force to spruce up the governor’s image is probably a coincidence due to the timing, it’s not unrelated.

If you go into the Empire Center’s SeeThrough-NY website of government payrolls and plug in the word “communication,” under job title, up will pop the salaries of 95 individuals earning a total of $3.7 million a year.

And that list doesn’t include the communications staff in the governor’s office, nor does it include all the communications staffers employed by members of the Assembly and Senate.

We in the press rarely find ourselves in need of the services of many of these individuals, since they function largely as a barrier between the public and public officials. Often, they can even be obstructionist to legitimate press inquiries.

Last year, for instance, Buffalo TV station WGRZ got so frustrated when it couldn’t get answers to questions from the governor’s office about the controversial Buffalo Billion project that it published the names and salaries of 14 communications workers who failed to respond to its inquiries. The combined salaries of those listed totaled more than $1.3 million.

While we understand that taxpayers do need to be informed about state business, and employees are needed to compile information, does the state really need separate communications officers, at 55 state agencies, costing millions of dollars each year, to spin the information favorably?

And should state taxpayers be funding a giant public relations staff for the governor to sway the people who might be asked vote for him for re-election as governor, or even as president, some day?

If state officials are looking for ways to improve their image, they might consider looking at reducing the amount of taxpayer money they spend trying to improve their image.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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