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Cuomo's administration more secretive, less transparent than promised, charge journalists

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Governor Cuomo began his term in office promising that he would run one of the most transparent and open governments in state history. But, 18 months into his term, news stories relating to Governor Cuomo's perceived lack of transparency in government have proliferated.

As Karen DeWitt reports, reform groups say they have some ideas on how the governor can improve his standing on the subject.

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Karen DeWitt
NYS Capitol Correspondent

First, the Albany Times Union reported that Cuomo administration officials had purged records from the state archives from Cuomo’s time as attorney general. The files related to the so-called Troopergate Scandal and a scathing report written by Cuomo that condemned top staff of former governor Eliot Spitzer and exonerated then-senator majority leader Joe Bruno. The paper’s charges prompted a 1,300 word angry letter from Cuomo’s communications director. The letter accused the paper of manufacturing a story to rehabilitate its own image.

The New York Times, was a recipient of a 2,200 word letter from the same Cuomo communications official on a another topic. The letter detailed what it said was Cuomo’s self-editing of his attorney general papers.

The AP reported that the governor’s staff was extremely slow to answer freedom of information requests. It told the wire service that it was still looking for a video response from the governor at the annual media dinner over two months after the event took place. The reports came amid reports that Cuomo and his top staff use an untraceable email service on their BlackBerries to communicate.

By the end of the week, several major newspapers printed scathing editorials in their Sunday editions, calling the governor secretive and controlling. The Albany Newsweekly Metroland compared Cuomo to Richard Nixon.

Sue Lerner, with Common Cause, says that there is a way to remedy some of the negative news stories for Cuomo. She says state officials should all agree to one standard for release of papers through the state archives and said, “We don’t believe that every single scrap of paper should be immediately available to the press and the public.”

Lerner also said that it was acceptable to seal records for a number of years so that a politician’s adversaries can’t use the files against them for political purposes. But according to Lerner, each official should not be making up new rules every time papers are donated to the archives, or arbitrarily changing the rules in the middle of a press inquiry.

“It’s completely unfair to change the rules in the middle of the game, as was done to several reporters in the last few months,” said Lerner. Common Sense has begun to work on a proposal to develop fair guidelines for the release of an official’s public papers.

Polls show that Cuomo continues to be popular with New Yorkers, who are pleased with the governor’s track record for getting things done. The most recent Quinnipiac University poll measured the governor’s approval rating at 73%.

Bill Samuels, the founder of the New Roosevelt Initiative, credits Cuomo with accomplishments such as enacting same-sex marriage and closing a multi-billion dollar budget gap after years of profound dysfunction in Albany. However, Samuels says that those agreements were crafted mostly in secret, in private one-on-one meetings with legislative leaders. He sees the governor’s methods as a serious problem and said, “By getting things done in the old way, he’s establishing a culture that may be working now, but long term is not a reform culture.”

Samuels’ father ran for governor in the 1970s with Cuomo’s father as his running mate. Samuels says Cuomo needs to learn how to accept criticism and now shoot the messenger. He said, “When we criticize, he should not take it as disloyalty. He needs to realize we are just putting forth alternative ideas on how to reform or improve some particular problem facing New York.”

According to Samuels, the governor has a chance to change the narrative. Cuomo says that he intends to launch a new effort for campaign finance reform. Samuels says Cuomo could hold public hearings and create an open process to develop legislation as well as setting a good example on his own by not accepting any more corporate donations.

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