The last time Ray Harding tried to give Andrew Cuomo a
boost into the governor’s mansion, it didn’t go too well.
Cuomo dropped out of the race; Harding’s Liberal Party,
which had endorsed Cuomo, lost its ballot line after it
failed to get the minimum 50,000 votes in the 2002 race.
Today, Harding gave Cuomo a very different kind of boost
towards the state’s top job – although this time it was
hardly voluntary: The 74-year-old political fixer and lobbyist entered a guilty plea this morning to felony charges, a move that makes his the biggest scalp taken so far in Cuomo’s two-year
old probe of pay-to-play schemes in the state’s pension
Harding helped Cuomo even more by agreeing – as part of his
guilty plea deal — to cooperate in Cuomo’s ongoing
investigation against political adviser Hank Morris and
others accused of turning former state comptroller Alan
Hevesi’s office into a shakedown racket.
In an appearance this morning before New York State Supreme
Court Judge Lewis Bart Stone, Harding was described as
resigned and almost cheerful, a marked change from his
glowering demeanor when he was indicted back in April.
“He’s lighter too, he’s lost a few pounds,” said a
courtroom observer of the heavyset attorney who had crested to more than 300 pounds earlier this year.
The veteran political operative provided the court with a
lengthy two-page allocution plea in which he detailed how
he had been a political sponsor of Hevesi ever since 1977,
backing him in runs for assembly, mayor, and city and state
comptroller posts. He confessed that after Hevesi was
elected to his state comptroller’s job in 2002, “Morris
inserted me as a placement agent on certain investment
transactions with the New York State Common Retirement Fund
so that I could receive hundreds of thousands of dollars
in fees to reward me for my political support of Alan
Harding also dug a deep hole for former pension fund chief
David Loglisci, who also stands indicted, by stating that
he “acted in concert” with Morris and Loglisci as they
“corrupted” the pension fund’s investment process by
steering some $800,000 in placement fees to Harding that
the lawyer had done nothing to earn.
Not that too many voters would have remembered this bit of
political history, but Harding’s guilty plea presents yet
another headache for Cuomo’s possible Republican
gubernatorial challenger, Rudy Giuliani: Harding was
Giuliani’s key political adviser, helping the former
prosecutor twice win election as mayor. He also made a
small fortune for himself when he used his Giuliani
contacts to become the city’s most sought-after lobbyist
during the Rudy years.
Cuomo also announced a second guilty plea today that gives
him even more leverage against Morris and Loglisci: Pension
investment guru Saul Meyer also pled guilty to a felony,
admitting that he cut a deal to steer 35 percent of fees
and profit to Morris in exchange for having the state
pension funds invest with his investment fund. In a
telephone press conference, Cuomo said that Meyer was “the
gatekeeper” for reviewing other investments for the state.
“The gatekeepers are the linchpin,” said Cuomo. “He was a