Andrew Cuomo Goes to Albany, Where Lobbyists Are Waiting

Andrew Cuomo Goes to Albany, Where Lobbyists Are Waiting
Sam Weber

It’s more a cult than a culture.

As often as we hear how imperative it is “to change the culture of Albany,” the language of reform camouflages the enemy. A mercenary class of elite lobbyists is at the heart of every state scandal, and nothing will change in New York until their death grip is broken.

Amorphous critiques of the “way things are done” in Albany do not describe what’s killing the state. It’s real people, an encrusted caste of 6584 registered lobbyists now awaiting the Albany arrival of Andrew Cuomo. He will either find a way to isolate and disarm them, or he will succumb to their charms, favoring one lobbyist or another until his government, too, is perceived as theirs.  

Caleb Ferguson
The calm before the storm.
Caleb Ferguson
The calm before the storm.

This gang, especially the top hundred heavy hitters, lives by a code of cult-like indifference to the common good—selling relationships with seduced decisionmakers for four-five-and even six-figure monthly fees. They put a pricetag on every hello. They cobble contributions. They push interests as if they are beliefs. They are as likely to be retained to make something go away as they are to make it happen. They engage, ingratiate, invest and convert, carrying the state, one compromising deal at a time, towards fiscal oblivion.

The shadows are their office. They recruit by whisper. As covert as they prefer to be, filing disclosure forms that conceal, they rationalize themselves as necessary intermediaries, the glue of a disjointed government. It’s a proselytizing mantra that covers the capital in alibis and allegories.

Albany’s lobbyists are, of course, no different than lobbyists elsewhere. That doesn’t make them any more compatible with the public good. And with twice as many lobbyists per legislator as the second highest state, they have become the permanent government of New York, like black crows circling the iconic green Capitol dome. The scandals they spark routinely change all the players but them. We are watching that cycle again, as almost every tarnished power center other than the Assembly Democrats, that ultimate bastion of lobbyist collusion, switches hands.

In this season of chilling revelation and electoral tumult, the primetime lobbyists appear set to remain as Albany’s most enduring fixture, with a change in revenue rankings but a roster nonetheless largely intact--altered only by the winks and nods among fresh insiders.

This is a memo to Cuomo. If he doesn’t take dramatic executive order action in his early days as governor to blunt the sway of lobbyists, they will chip away at his credibility, and voters will come to believe over time that all that has changed are the names of the ins and the outs. He can finance his next campaign without them. He can’t restore public faith in state government with them.

A pecking order of the caste closest to Cuomo has already emerged.

John Marino, who chaired the state party for five years under Mario Cuomo and ran three of his campaigns, launched a government affairs unit at his public relations firm, Dan Klores Communications (DKC), last September. It’s run by Allison Lee, the wife of Congressman Maurice Hinchey and a former aide to Andrew in his days at HUD under President Clinton. When Cuomo was nominated for governor at the state party convention this May, it was Marino who introduced him .

The founder of the firm, Dan Klores, is so close to Andrew that they used to throw joint birthday parties. Klores, who says he’s sold his interest in the firm to Marino and other employees as part of a long-term “arrangement,” spends most of his time now producing plays and movies, but he was on the phone often in 2003, talking to reporters about Andrew’s breakup with Kerry Kennedy. He put $101,700 into Cuomo’s 2006 campaign for attorney general and supplied his campaign press secretary and first communications director in the AG’s office. Marino, Klores, Klores’ wife, and Lee have given $42,500 to Cuomo since January 2008, and their government affairs attracted 10 clients the day they opened, and a total of 27 clients since.

Marino tells the Voice that he “ain’t ever going to lobby the governor or anyone on the executive side,” promising to restructure the firm in such a way “as to not share in the profits” of the government affairs unit. Klores said much the same, indicating that under the terms of his sale, “I don’t have anything to gain” from the firm’s future lobbying income. That still leaves Lee and others at the firm with their own ties to Cuomo, as well as the allure of the big names at the top of  the letterhead.

The interlocking history of DKC and Cuomo put it only half a step ahead of the woman who ran the 2006 campaign, Jennifer Cunningham, who is a partner with John Cordo, a former Republican senate staffer, in Cordo & Co. Cuomo and Cunningham differed over Eric Schneiderman during the primary, when Cunningham was running the campaign of her former husband and Cuomo wanted anyone but Schneiderman to win. But they ended up on the same page (and what a novel it is). Schneiderman’s stunning win, aided by Andrew, may cement the ties between these three over the coming years. Cunningham’s careermaking client is 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers, a union Cuomo is at loggerheads with regarding Medicaid costs.

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