The New York Times lays the smack down on Governor Cuomo today with a long report on the short life of the Moreland Commission, created by Cuomo with much fanfare to investigate endemic corruption in campaign financing and state government. The Times reports that, in fact, the commission was little more than a tool to intimidate the state legislature, and was discouraged from investigating people close to Cuomo himself. It was shut down once it had served Cuomo's purposes, but before it could serve what many considered the state's purposes. Touted as an independent entity, it is now acknowledged by Cuomo himself to have been subject to his will all along. He makes this point, apparently, to dismiss complaints that he improperly interfered with its work. "It's my commission," the governor told one reporter, "I can't 'interfere' with it, because it is mine. It is controlled by me." The scare quotes around "interfere" seem to be his. Presumably it was always his prerogative to determine who should or should not be investigated. At one moment he declares that "you can't set up an investigations commission to extort the Legislature. At the same moment he admits that the threat of the commission gave him leverage with legislators to advance his policy agenda. "They thought it was really abusive," he says, but in the end "they gave us everything we couldn't get last year."
From one perspective, this is just strong leadership, proving Cuomo the sort of hardball player the Democratic party needs at the state and national level. I might agree with that except for the apparent hypocrisy of Cuomo's "interference," which suggests that his real target wasn't corruption but opposition. This sort of intimidation is the sort of thing we expect from a leader like Vladimir Putin, except that there's no presumption of innocence for Cuomo's opponents as there is, outside Russia, for Putin's. Apart from that, an investigating committee that acts, in effect, at the leader's pleasure, investigating those whom it's convenient or useful to investigate, and neglecting (or scrupulously ignoring) everything else, looks pretty authoritarian. Yet who doubts that Cuomo will be re-elected this November. Few will feel motivated to vote Republican to punish him, understandably, and few will have the imagination or courage to vote for Howie Hawkins, Zephyr Teachout or any other alternative on the left. Teachout, who has called on Cuomo to resign after today's story, is challenging Cuomo in the Democratic primary after failing to wrest the Working Families nomination from him. That alone proves that anyone who says there's no alternative to Cuomo is, to say the least, wrong.