On Monday, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that he was promoting his chief of staff, Melissa DeRosa, to the position of secretary to the governor. On the surface, it’s a logical move: DeRosa has worked for Cuomo for several years and has been in politics since she was sixteen years old. Yet her family connections — namely, to her father and brother, who are powerful lobbyists, and to her husband, an executive at Uber — have raised some questions about the potential conflicts of interest that DeRosa’s newly elevated position could pose. But when reporters asked about those conflicts during a press conference yesterday, Cuomo derided the questions as sexist, suggesting they were only being asked because of DeRosa’s gender.
There’s plenty in DeRosa’s personal life that justifies serious scrutiny. Her father, Giorgio DeRosa, is a senior partner at the lobbying firm Bolton-St. Johns, with whom her brother is also a lobbyist. Her husband, Matthew Wing, is a former Cuomo spokesperson and currently a top executive at Uber. In the $153 billion state budget that went into effect this month, Uber and other ride-hailing apps won permission to expand upstate.
Rather than addressing these questions head on, Cuomo tried to turn the tables back on the reporters, suggesting they were only asking them because DeRosa is a woman — the first to assume the role of secretary to the governor. According to State of Politics:
“Melissa DeRosa is the first female secretary to the governor,” Cuomo said. “She’s worked for me, she’s worked for the attorney general. She’s one of the young superstars in the business. Her father is a longtime, well-known lobbyist in Albany. Everybody knows that. So, I don’t see the issue whatsoever.”
He went on:
“You know there’s some men whose wives are lobbyists,” he said. “But I’m sure you are going to ask every man whose wife is a lobbyist or mother is a lobbyist.”
Cuomo added: “I hope you are not asking just a woman about this.”
Cuomo fancies himself a champion of women’s rights, but he has proven himself a fair-weather advocate at best. His Women’s Equality Party, superficially created to bring “together the strength of New York’s women leaders to help elect candidates who support the issues that matter most to us,” was really a craven attempt to siphon voters away from the progressive Working Family’s Party. When Cuomo abandoned the WEP for shinier pursuits, it was later hijacked by Upper East Side Republicans.
There was also the time Cuomo donned a pretty pink scarf and vowed to enshrine Roe v. Wade into the New York Constitution, despite failing to commit support to the more timely, more useful Reproductive Health Act currently awaiting passage by the Republican-controlled state senate. As State Senator Liz Krueger told the Voice at the time, Cuomo could throw his weight behind the bill, which would strengthen and modernize New York’s pitifully out-of-date abortion laws. And yet, he hasn’t. (Nor has he succeeded in pushing the legislature to adopt long-promised ethics reforms, even as his former top aide faces federal corruption charges.)
DeRosa, for her part, has vowed to recuse herself from potential conflicts. A spokesperson for Cuomo told the Wall Street Journal that DeRosa is “actively engaged” with the Joint Commission on Public Ethics “to ensure that even the appearance of impropriety is avoided.”
DeRosa also told the paper that she is doing her due diligence.
“This is not a new issue for me — my father went into this line of work over 25 years ago, and I have been involved in government and politics for over a decade,” she told the Journal. “I have fully complied with the public-officers law recusal policy for years and am working with JCOPE to ensure the highest standards are met as I take on this new role.”
Common Cause, an advocacy group that promotes good government, released the following statement regarding DeRosa’s promotion, pointing out that these are curious times indeed to be eliding conflict of interest concerns.
“Common Cause/NY congratulates Melissa DeRosa on her promotion to secretary to the governor; she is clearly well qualified for the job. However, given the 45th president’s unprecedented conflicts of interest, Americans are increasingly aware of ethical requirements for elected and appointed officials. The DeRosa family’s extensive business interests before the state raise serious questions.”
The statement also called for DeRosa to disclose the entities with which she’ll avoid contact, as well as all the relevant meetings she’ll recuse herself from, such as on the expansion of ride hailing.
Asked about Cuomo’s suggestions of sexism, the group said only that “the governor’s accusations speak for themselves,” and declined to comment further.