ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday weighed in on the St. Clare’s Hospital pension crisis for the first time, in a way that left people involved in the matter mystified or annoyed.
There had been no response from the Governor’s Office to requests from 1,100-plus pensioners and their representatives for help in the nine months since it was announced that their monthly pension checks would be reduced or eliminated.
The silence continued June 17, as about 100 St. Clare’s pensioners rallied for support on a staircase near the Executive Chamber at the State Capitol.
On Tuesday, a reporter at an unrelated press event apparently caught Cuomo unprepared with a question about whether he’d get involved in the effort to help former employees of the defunct Schenectady hospital.
“St. Clare pensions?” he said. “I have to look into it.”
Former St. Clare’s employee Mary Hartshorne, a leader of the pensioners’ fight to regain what was promised to them — the cost of doing so would exceed $50 million — had mixed reactions later Tuesday.
“I don’t know how it’s possible he doesn’t know, and I don’t believe him for a minute,” she said, noting that she and another pensioner committee leader had directly handed their petition to one of the governor’s aides during their rally at the Capitol.
Nonetheless, she added: “This is actually a good thing … I don’t think he can turn his back on us now.”
Some people in the pension fight say the state bears some responsibility for the mess, because it ordered the financially struggling St. Clare’s to be merged with Ellis Hospital in 2008 and provided a pension bailout that was too small and, some speculate, possibly mishandled.
The state Attorney General’s Office, in its role as a regulator of nonprofits, is now looking into what went wrong and why.
“I find it mostly an avoidance issue with the governor,” Hartshorne said.
The attorney general’s review, she said, “May be overturning a few rocks that he may have wanted to remain as they were.”
Asked for comment on the matter, Cuomo’s spokesman Jason Conwall gave a brief statement referring to that review:
“We support the attorney general’s investigation and await its results.”
State legislators from the Schenectady region were more expansive in their comments on Cuomo’s non-comment.
Republican Sens. George Amedore and James Tedisco criticized Democrat Cuomo on Tuesday, as did Republican Assemblywoman Mary Beth Walsh and Assemblyman Chris Tague.
But so did Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, a fellow Democrat.
“To say I’m disappointed would be an understatement,” he said. “That is just unacceptable to say you’re unaware and it’s also very offensive to the 1,110 pensioners.”
Legislation has been introduced to block dissolution of the St. Clare’s Corporation, budget requests were made for a contribution to a pension bailout, pensioners met with legislators, and legislators sent requests for help. And there was the rally in the Capitol, Santabarbara said.
“There has been a number of communications back and forth,” he said. “I’m not happy with the governor. I haven’t seen any response or activity to indicate to me that the governor is looking into this at all.”