Governor Andrew Cuomo was forced Wednesday to defend his top appointment to a newly formed independent ethics commission that is itself now facing scrutiny. NY1's Zack Fink filed the following report.
When the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, better known as "JCOPE" in government circles, was created last year, Governor Andrew Cuomo was given the most sway over its operations. He appointed the most members, including its chairwoman, Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore.
But DiFiore is now embroiled in her own ethics scandal, having been accused of helping her housekeeper receive food stamps and other benefits she may not have been entitled to. The governor was asked about his decision to put her in charge.
"If you had to pick in the abstract who should you pick as the head of JCOPE, I don't think you could have been any more ambitious than a sitting district attorney as the head of JCOPE," said Cuomo.
The DiFiore flap is just the latest controversy to engulf the embattled commission. Recently, details of an ethics investigation into Deputy Senate Majority Leader Tom Libous ended up in the press, provoking an angry response from Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos on May 15.
"Whoever from JCOPE is leaking this is committing a crime," said Skelos at the time.
The senate majority leader has since downplayed that accusation, but he has not recanted his statement.
The governor said he is troubled by the "dialogue" coming from JCOPE.
"To the extent that we have more work to do, we will do it," said Cuomo. "And I am sure we will have more work to do. This is a very complicated undertaking."
However, the governor said he stands by his decision to help mold JCOPE into the organization it is today.
"I am fully confident in the goal of JCOPE, the improvement in ethics overall and an institution of ethical reform," said Cuomo.
JCOPE is expected to meet on Thursday in Albany. One of the criticisms has been that the majority of its meetings are conducted behind closed doors and out of public view.