Federal and state charges against two former aides to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and SUNY Polytech head Alain Kaloyeros brought quick condemnation from local leaders across the political spectrum.
When contacted by the Daily Gazette on Thursday, politicians of both major political parties said it reflects badly on state government, which has also been shaken by major leadership scandals in both houses of the Legislature.
"It's an embarrassment; I'm sick and tired of it and so are the people of the state of New York," said state Sen. George Amedore, R-Rotterdam, a frequent critic of Democratic leadership at the Capitol.
Amedore, like every other member of the state Legislature, is up for election this November, in one the region's most closely watched races. He acknowledged that while out campaigning, he's been getting an earful from voters.
"People's patience has run out and they want the to see it end, and so do I," he said.
Amedore's Democratic opponent in the 46th Senate District race, Palatine Town Supervisor Sara Niccoli, accused Amedore of not pushing hard enough for change.
"The sad reality of Albany is that there are glaring loopholes, ethical failings and a general atmosphere where corruption is accepted as the status quo," Niccoli said. "That is simply unacceptable, and I am livid that [Amedore] has been so resistant to reform and ethical government."
A federal criminal complaint filed Thursday by U.S. Attorney Preet Bahrara charged eight people, including two former close Cuomo aides and SUNY Poly leader Alain Kaloyeros, of bid-rigging in multi-million-dollar upstate economic development projects.
Later in the day, state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced a separate state indictment that focused on Kaloyeros, 60, of Slingerlands, and Joseph Nicolla, 59, of Schenectady, president of Columbia Development, and how major contracts were allegedly steered to the development company.
“This self-serving scheme alleged in the complaint was particularly egregious because it was aimed at enriching powerful people at the expense of the state’s public university system," Schneiderman said.
Both prosecutors said they have no evidence of Cuomo's involvement, but that didn't keep questions from being raised.
"I applaud Preet Bharara for once again shining the light on the corruption that has plagued Albany for far too long," said Assemblyman James Tedisco, R-Glenville, who is running for the 49th District state Senate seat to be vacated by the retirement of Sen. Hugh T. Farley. "The governor has said that [charged former aide] Joe Percoco was like a brother to him. Well, brothers don’t hold these kind of secrets between themselves."
The Democrat running for the Senate seat, Chad Putman of Schenectady, said he has already promised not to take contributions from corporations and political action committees as a measure against corruption.
"I am disheartened by the charges brought today against those associated with the running of our state government. Sadly, too many times we have seen how those entrenched in the political system manipulate that system for their personal benefit," Putman said.
Cuomo issued a statement saying he has "zero tolerance for abuse of the public trust by anyone," and saying his administration will fully cooperate with prosecutors.
Cuomo said Kaloyeros, a near-legendary figure in Albany who has spearheaded the spread of the state's high-technology research programs across upstate, has been suspended without pay, effective immediately. Kaloyeros earned $1.17 million in 2015, according to public records, making him the state's highest-paid employee.
Democratic Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara of Rotterdam said the charges point to the need for reform - and he cited his service in the Army Reserve as establishing a strong example.
"The words that come to mind are alarming, shameful, disappointing," he said Thursday afternoon. "Anyone who has served in the military can tell you about honesty and putting duty before self. I'm going to keep working every day like I always do, letting [constituents] know there are people who serve with honesty and integrity."
Santabarbara called for passage of a bill he has already introduced that would prohibit outside employment by legislators.
He said he favors taking the pensions away from legislators and public officials convicted of corruption, and minimum 10-year prison sentences for anyone convicted of corruption charges. "I think people who aren't willing to serve honestly - we need to weed them out," he said.
"I am deeply troubled and disappointed by the findings announced today by the federal government," said Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner, D-Round Lake. "Despite the repeated findings of ethics violations in state government, I will continue to hold myself to the highest ethical standards and lead by example in a way that my constituents can be proud of."
Blair Horner, legislative director of the New York Public Interest Research Group, said the charges, if true, show both weaknesses in state government and in Cuomo's management style.
"I think these were bombshell indictments and I think really illustrate a fundamental problem with the way New York state does its business," Horner said. "Close allies of the governor used the governor's energy and economic development programs to enrich themselves, and that is unacceptable. The whole system of awarding state contracts needs an overhaul."
Despite what skeptics like Tedisco think, Horner said it's possible Cuomo didn't know.
"The governor is a hands-on manager, but state government is a huge enterprise," Horner said.
Albany County Executive Dan McCoy, also a Democrat, said he is concerned that the charges will hurt the state's economic development efforts.
"These indictments will obviously affect the public's trust and that trust is critical to successful and effective development," McCoy said in a statement.
Under Kaloyeros's leadership for nearly 30 years, more than $15 billion in government and private money has been invested in the Albany nanotechnology center next to the University at Albany. In recent years it has expanded and become SUNY-Polytech, but those projects are not at the center of both federal and state investigations.
Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.