“I was not aware that this was a company that had been supportive of me. I don’t keep track of that.”
That’s what Gov. Kathy Hochul said Thursday in response to a report that a New Jersey company was awarded a $637 million no-bid contract under her covid emergency powers to provide covid tests to the state while also contributing $300,000 to Hochul’s election campaign over the last few months.
Unlike other state contracts, the governor was able to avoid getting the state comptroller’s approval for the contract because she and the state Health Department still wield strong emergency powers due to the 30-month covid pandemic.
Also on Thursday, Empire State Development approved a $7.5 billion Penn Station revitalization plan being pushed by Hochul that includes millions in tax breaks for the developer proposing to build skyscrapers around the Manhattan train station. Vornado Realty Trust CEO Steve Roth has contributed around $70,000 to Hochul’s campaign. Does she not keep track of those donations either?
These revelations raise a number of questions about government oversight and executive power.
Regarding the pandemic, should the governor still have such a high degree of authority over government decisions, such as being able to award large government contracts without comptroller approval under the umbrella of a health emergency? While there have been spikes in cases due to new variants, the state isn’t anywhere near the crisis level it was at a year or two ago.
Regarding the campaign contributions, it’s easy to plead ignorance by saying you can’t possibly know every single donation. But certainly, the comptroller or attorney general should be watching for any suspicion of the governor abusing her power.
We just editorialized Thursday about new reports of her use of taxpayer-funded state aircraft to travel around the state and her dismissal of questions about its propriety.
Claiming innocence or ignorance each time news reporters uncover questionable activity should raise red flags. As they say, “If it walks like a duck … .”
The best way for the governor to avoid such accusations is to avoid the situations.
Someone on her state or campaign staff should have alerted her to the donations from the company to which she awarded the covid test contract and either encouraged her to return the money or at least disclose the contributions in advance. Same with the New York City developer’s contributions.
If you don’t want to look like you’re benefiting from your support for a project or individual, then don’t actually benefit.
The governor can explain away these situations. She also could easily avoid them, by rejecting contributions where she has direct influence and disclosing potential conflicts.
If the governor won’t do it herself, then the Legislature and other state leaders need to step in.