- Alfred Lerner is the chairperson of the New York State Commission of Investigations, and he's had a busy week. On Tuesday, he announced that his panel will launch yet another investigation regarding the Choppergate affair; and today, he announced that NYRA violated the law when it awarded the much-disputed $125K a month contract to Getnick and Getnick without competitive bidding.
“Despite claims by NYRA and Getnick & Getnick that the law firm could be hired as a sole source without competitive bidding, the Commission strongly disagrees,” Commission Chairman Alfred D. Lerner said. [Politics on the Hudson]It was NYRA's contention that Getnick was "uniquely qualified" to be its integrity monitor. If so, NYRA would have been exempted from having to put the contract out for bid. NYRA cited Getnick's stint as its federal monitor during the period of the deferred prosecution to support its contention.
But others argued that it was that very gig which created the appearance of conflict of interest, since it was Getnick which gave NYRA a clean bill of ethical health which eliminated the indictment and likely allowed it to survive. Lerner agreed that Getnick was qualified to get the job but disagreed that there were no other firms that were too. And he added: "By violating state law and not having a competitive bidding process, NYRA needlessly invited doubt about the contract award's legitimacy." [AP]
However, Lerner said that there will be no sanctions against NYRA, and that the State Racing and Wagering Board lacked the authority to stop the deal or to cancel it now.
The only power they now have is to fine NYRA, which is in bankruptcy and lost $34 million last year, or remove it as the franchise holder. [Albany Times Union]I'd say that neither of those scenarios are very likely. Senator Bruno at one point charged that there were ties between Getnick and Eliot Spitzer, and that the latter had a role in arranging the deal. And since Bruno turned out to be right about a lot of things about the former governor, who's to say that he wasn't right about that too?
Regarding Choppergate/Troopergate, noting the myriad of investigations that have (and still are) taken place, Lerner said: “Many people in the state have felt that the various investigations have been dysfunctional, that they haven’t proceeded in an orderly fashion, to say the least." [NY Times City Room] [NY Times] So, his response to that is to launch another investigation. Not any investigation, but an investigation of the investigations.
We are seeking to determine the efficacy of the various investigatory efforts, including those of the Albany County district attorney, the state inspector general and the State Commission on Public Integrity.Well, for one thing, let's point out that Lerner is a Pataki appointee, and that four of the six members of his committee were appointed by either that former governor or Bruno; while the Albany County DA is a Democrat, Kristine Hamann, the state inspector general, is a Spitzer-appointee, and the Commission on Public Integrity consists of a majority of appointees of client nine. So the fact that Lerner specified those three probes but not, for example, the question of whether it was appropriate for Senate Republicans to spend $150,000 of taxpayer money (of a deal which could have cost as much as $500,000) on a high-powered Wash DC law firm to aid in their own investigation makes his new investigation seem like just another partisan one which should eventually be investigated itself. (And I also think there should be an investigation into why there's been no real investigation of whether Bruno's use of choppers and troopers violated the law in the first place.)
David Soares is the Albany DA and he likely has the most to fear from this latest probe. He's getting excoriated over his second report on Troopergate - specifically with respect to the portions on the involvement of Spitzer. Soares tried to minimize the report's impact by issuing it on Friday afternoon (around the same time as NYRA released their financials). However, he couldn't obscure the stark difference between his latest account of the madman ex-chief executive of this state suggesting the insertion of a foreign object into Joe Bruno's rear, and his original report which not only concluded that the governor had no involvement, but practically defended the motives behind the release of the state police itineraries. NY Daily News columnist Michael Goodwin is amongst those who think that Soares was intimidated by Governor Hothead.
Actually, calling Soares cowardly was the nicest of three options. No. 1 was to say Soares was so incompetent as to be unfit. No. 2 was to suggest he was corrupt and maybe took a bribe from Spitzer or a promise of, say, political backing for a primary race against Cuomo. Option No. 3 was to simply say he was scared of Spitzer.No one can tell what was going through Soares' head at the time, but the perception is bad enough that I don't see how the guy can be an effective prosecutor of public integrity in the state capital. Who's going to take him seriously the next time he has to investigate the governor, whether it be Paterson, Cuomo, Michael Bloomberg, or Hillary Clinton!? I think he should probably resign before he gets voted out of office this fall.
In truth, lots of people in Albany, and the press, were scared of Spitzer. In that sense, Spitzer was not only corrupt, he was a corrupter of others. A ruthless madman who stopped at nothing to destroy opponents and critics, he frightened otherwise decent people out of doing their duty. That's what I believe happened to Soares. [NY Daily News]
One more investigation - Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is launching an extensive probe of the State Police for possible meddling.
"There is no question that there has been a rising number of complaints, anecdotal evidence, about political interference in the State Police," noted Cuomo.Sounds like Cuomo may be hoping to be one day played by Al Pacino on screen.
The attorney general said he was "looking at the Knapp Commission" and even some former commission members for guidance on how to probe a police department.