Gov. Kathy Hochul is being pressured by lawmakers and watchdog groups to fill at least two immediate vacancies on the state’s ethics board, as it considers whether to go forward with a probe of ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo — and possibly revoking approval for his $5.1 million book deal.
The Joint Commission on Public Ethics is slated to meet on Tuesday, Sept. 14, but two Cuomo appointees resigned last month along with the disgraced ex-governor — former chair Camille Varlack and Commissioner Daniel Horwitz — and one more gubernatorial rep, Commissioner James Dering, is slated to depart in October.
That means Hochul — who has pledged ethics and transparency will be a “hallmark” of her administration — will soon be on the hook for naming three individuals to complete the board, which at full strength stands at 14 members.
“JCOPE can’t do its job unless it’s staffed up and that’s up to Gov. Hochul to make the appointments as soon as possible,” said Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group, in a phone interview Thursday.
“They can’t get their work done. It’s not like there’s nothing happening, there’s all these serious investigations going on and they get jammed up if the commission is not operating at full tilt.”
It was revealed last month that the panel is considering launching a “substantial investigation” into Cuomo’s former inner circle, during a leaked portion of their private, executive session.
Commissioners and staffers were overheard talking about taking a vote on the matter at their upcoming meeting.
“I believe it is imperative and urgent that Governor Hochul appoint a new chair and the vacant appointment as soon as practical, and it would be desirable to have it by the next meeting,” Commissioner Gary Lavine, a Republican appointee, told The Post.
He said he will also raise a motion Tuesday to rescind the controversial approval of Cuomo’s $5.1 million book deal, which was OK’d by JCOPE staffers instead of by a full panel vote during the summer of 2020.
The move would require Cuomo to reapply for approval from the commission and if it determines the ex-pol is guilty of wrongdoing, legally they can claw back the funds.
New York’s public officer’s law bans elected officials from engaging in activities that will boost their personal wealth without prior approval from JCOPE.
Lavine also said some commissioners on the the panel also plan on discussing making public the contents of the book contract between Cuomo and his publisher, The Crown Publishing Group.
Cuomo’s book deal is being investigated separately by multiple bodies following allegations that state resources were used in the book’s production, including the FBI/US Eastern District of New York and the state Assembly Judiciary Committee which is slated to release a report from the findings in their now-defunct impeachment inquiry.
State Attorney General Letitia James also issued a subpoena on the commission earlier this summer, requesting documents pertaining to the book deal as part of her office’s ongoing criminal probe into the matter.
The panel has long been criticized for operating in secrecy and its close ties to Cuomo, and commissioners are barred by state law from discussing internal probes and can only comment when an investigation has concluded or wrongdoing has been substantiated.
Calls to overhaul the board entirely have also been made.
“Appointing strong candidates to JCOPE is one of the more immediate measures Governor Hochul can take to prioritize ethics and integrity in Albany. As New Yorkers we are expected to make important decisions with urgency. That is why I am confident that selecting the right candidates will not be comprised by moving swiftly,” said state Senate Ethics Committee Chair Alessandra Biaggi (D-The Bronx).
Neither a request for comment to Hochul’s office was not immediately returned to The Post regarding the appointments.