As Gov. Andrew Cuomo has started on courting wealthy donors to help him secure a third term as governor, he and his officials haven’t necessarily feel compelled to acknowledge that’s the case let alone openly discuss who exactly is filling up the campaign coffers.
So, for the most part, the media and residents are left with second- and third-hand accounts from attendees and others, along with what little public information is available to get a sense of who exactly is throwing cash at Cuomo. Already there are some pretty interesting patterns residents might be interested in tracking.
Central New York developers and property owners
As the Syracuse Post-Standard reports, financial disclosure forms for the Cuomo campaign outline how earlier this month, the governor held a $1,000-per-plate fundraiser in Skaneateles, NY, a small town about a half hour west of Syracuse.
The event cost over $35,000 and was paid for and organized by Syracuse-area developers Michael P. Falcone and his dad Michael J. Falcone of Pioneer Companies.
While Michael the elder, the founder of the company, has largely stayed out of the news, Michael the younger and his wife, Nicole Ruvo Falcone, recently set their sights on the medical marijuana industry and founded Salus Scientific with the hope of securing state licenses needed to grow and dispense cannabis, but the request was denied in the summer of 2015 and not much has happened with the company since.
Besides the Falcones, of the 23 people from the Syracuse who attended Cuomo’s shindig in Skaneateles, half of them were either property owners, developers, or folks from companies that work in the industry.
For example, Cuomo received a total of $5,000 from the top officials of C&S Companies, an area development, engineering, and architectural firm. C&S also has a bunch of government contracts.
A handful of smaller developers also gave a total of $14,000 to the Cuomo campaign, while some folks affiliated with Destiny USA, the sixth largest shopping mall in America located in Syracuse, gave a total of $3,500.
All of that is just chump change, though, compared to the $595,000 he pulled in from developers and property owners in New York City. According to reports from the New York Post, charter schools have also contributed huge sums of money to Cuomo’s campaign – about $5 million of the estimated $25.7 million the governor has raked in so far.
Filling the void?
Sure, it’s possible plenty of people in the development and real estate business legitimately like Cuomo and want to support his campaign, but there is always the chance some people want to use their large contributions to get the administration to take notice and influence decision-making – particularly if it nets them more money.
In January 2016, the Post-Standard reported how Syracuse-based COR Development was Cuomo’s top donor in Central New York with top officials and subsidiaries giving $50,000 in total. COR Development contributions also made up 25 percent of the Cuomo’s campaign contributions when he ran for reelection in 2014.
This time around though, the development company has yet to donate any money to their favorite Democratic governor. There’s a good reason for that.
Just months after local media lauded COR Development for it’s vast wealth and political connections, in September 2016, two of the company’s owners were arrested and charged on federal corruption charges, including bribing one of Cuomo’s top aides, Joey “Ziti” Percoco – who himself is facing federal corruption charges – to make sure the company received lucrative state deals, like this one. Ten people were charged in total.
Authorities say they’re convinced COR Development’s large campaign contributions played a role.
You think they’d learn…
Whether someone is donating to Cuomo because they like the guy and his policies or because they’re hoping for a COR Development-type return on investment, the onus is on the governor to make sure his donors understand making large contributions in the hopes that they’ll get favors down the line is unacceptable.
That’s why more than a few eyebrows were raised in the Syracuse area when news broke that the governor had brought Howard Zemsky, president and CEO of Empire State Development Corp., to that little get together in Skaneateles.
One of Cuomo’s spokesman said Zemsky simply, “tagged along” following some business he and Cuomo had to take care of during the day and was present for no other reason than for the simple fact that he had been traveling with the governor.
But Zemsky’s attendance at the fundraiser is significant given how the department, according to its website, “Invests strategically in infrastructure, innovation, placemaking and revitalization, tradeable sectors and workforce development.”
In other words, it decides which companies get huge development projects. Zemsky also took over projects that were overseen by another guy, SUNY Polytechnic Institute’s president and CEO Alain Kaloyeros, who was among those caught up in the federal corruption charges levied last year.
Given residents only recently learned one of the area’s largest developers bribed its way to the top by winning influence with campaign contributions, some argued that having Zemsky showing up with Cuomo was a bit ridiculous.
Time will tell
November 2018 is a long way off and the field is wide open – Cuomo’s primary challenger from the left in a little-known candidate with ties to the Green Party named Terry Gibson, and a Republican has yet to come forward – so anything can happen.
Certainly nothing shady or nefarious has came to light about Cuomo, his influential donors, or the way the campaign has been operating this year. However, given how loud money talks in politics, it helps to keep tabs on exactly whose money is doing the most talking and who seemingly has a direct interest in seeing the governor secure a third term.
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