- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 7, 2014

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s recent ethics problems have at least complicated his path to re-election this year and potentially his hopes for higher office in 2016.

Federal prosecutors are now probing reports that Mr. Cuomo’s office improperly interfered with an ethics commission launched last July by the Democratic governor himself, who upon winning office in 2010 pledged to clean up the ethically challenged political culture in the state.

Mr. Cuomo’s favorability rating has dipped, but he still remains the overwhelming favorite in his race for re-election in a reliably blue state.

Still, more than half of those surveyed in an NBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll released this week said Mr. Cuomo’s staff shouldn’t have gotten involved in the work of the Moreland Commission, originally billed as an independent committee tasked with rooting out corruption at all levels of state government, and that his staff did in fact act unethically.

Leonard M. Cutler, chairman of the political science department at Siena College, said the news might cause voters to take another look at alternate candidates, but he predicted Mr. Cuomo would survive.

“Is it going to stick on the governor for the 2014 election cycle? I doubt it very much, to be honest with you,” said Mr. Cutler.

The New York Times, which broke the story, revealed that a top Cuomo aide pressured the commission to withdraw a subpoena of a major media-buying firm because of the firm’s ties to Mr. Cuomo’s political campaign.

For his part, Mr. Cuomo has defended his office’s role in the commission and said staffers only made suggestions that were ultimately turned aside.

“Independence doesn’t mean you get holed up in an ivory tower and you don’t talk to anyone,” he told reporters last week in Buffalo.

Questions over the commission have now opened Mr. Cuomo up to criticism from national left-leaning groups, which could complicate his longer-term political ambitions.

And this week, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) threw its support in the Sept. 9 Democratic primary to Fordham University Law Professor Zephyr Teachout, director of online organizing for former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign.

Though the same Marist poll showed that 78 percent of voters haven’t heard enough about Ms. Teachout to form an opinion, Cuomo allies have taken notice.

Lawyer Martin Connor, a former state senator who is supporting Mr. Cuomo, argued in Brooklyn court Thursday that she has not lived in the state long enough to actually run for the post.

Ms. Teachout said the “frivolous” challenge is evidence that the allegations involving the commission are spooking the governor. The Cuomo campaign did not respond to a request for comment on the residency challenge.

Mr. Cuomo, a former state attorney general and the son of former Gov. Mario Cuomo, has consistently been mentioned among possible contenders for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, particularly if former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton does not run.

Michael Malbin, a political-science professor at the University at Albany-State University of New York, said the commission investigation could be a red flag for the hard-core activists who vote in presidential primaries.

“If it settles in among activists that he didn’t really care about the issue, that’ll hurt him in a future presidential run,” he said. “It might not hurt him if he didn’t make it such a big issue. But he did.”

Rob Astorino, Westchester County executive and the presumptive Republican candidate for governor, is hoping the revelations will provide his campaign with a much-needed jolt and has called for a concurrent investigation by a special state prosecutor. Early polls give Mr. Cuomo a 30-point edge in the polls over his GOP challenger.

“To have a sitting governor being investigated by federal prosecutors for corrupting an anti-corruption commission has certainly changed the dynamic of the race,” Astorino spokeswoman Jessica Proud said in an email.

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