New York Governor Kathy Hochul may not be corrupt, but she’s awfully comfortable with those who are. It’s not just how easy she was with Cuomo or how embracing of Brian Benjamin. Here on Roosevelt Island, we see – on a small scale – a reflection of her values in protecting RIOC.
by David Stone
Governor Kathy Hochul: A Comfort Zone with Corruption
“I have utmost confidence in my lieutenant governor,” Hochul said one week ago at a news conference where Benjamin sat beside her. “This is an independent investigation related to other people, and he is fully cooperating. He is my running mate.”
Her handpicked Lieutenant Governor surrendered to federal authorities a few days later, indicted on five counts. He resigned the next day after talking with Hochul.
Was that a sign of her comfort zone with corruption or cluelessness? In a state burdened by decades of still unresolved corruption, is either worse than the other? Because it’s clear on Roosevelt Island that one or the other shields RIOC and its executives against multiple accusations amid overall incompetence.
RIOC’s Evolution Under Hochul
Well before Hochul succeeded Cuomo – whom she never criticized before corruption and harassment claims brought him down – red flags were flying over possible misconduct at RIOC under President/CEO Shelton J. Haynes. Signs of incompetence were, likewise, everywhere.
With Cuomo’s heavy foot of protection off RIOC, hopes for a better future lifted. But it was not to be. In fact, things rapidly got worse. The seal against information surrounding RIOC activities gradually became hermetic.
When a state agency shields itself against releasing legitimate public information, they hide it for a reason, and a series of FOIL requests exposed some of it. And then, RIOC – directed by Haynes, according to whistleblowers – shut down answering FOIL requests.
Because Hochul’s name appears at the top of the RIOC letterhead and because her Albany handlers control the state agency through secretive back channels, this could not happen without her condoning it. But as with Brian Benjamin, the lapse may have come more from cluelessness than corruption.
That is, her ingrained comfort zone with corruption all around her may have blinded her to its effects on the public she’s pledged to serve.
Who’s Protecting Who?
With changes happening within RIOC’s hierarchy in the last several years, suspicions rose about political patronage trumping executive competence. Specifically, relatively little known RIOC appeared to become a dumping ground for fulfilling favors without attracting widespread attention.
With patronage comes protection and – with that – support in return.
The switch may have escaped notice – newspapers are political too – but Andrew Cuomo’s last strong support came from Hazel Dukes. Dukes runs the Harlem Democratic party machine and called Cuomo her ‘son,” even as eleven women accused him of sexual harassment.
But then, under extreme pressure, he resigned. Within weeks, Dukes endorsed Hochul for reelection. Two years early, their gears meshed. Dukes, though, long-time head of New York NAACP, had problems of her own, dating back to the 1990s and ignored by the press.
Most shocking was her guilty plea for stealing $13,000 from a woman battling leukemia who trusted her with her bank accounts. Dukes, according to the Times report in 1997, spent the money “on dry cleaning, car services, flowers and gifts, and for charitable and political donations…”
She kept her job with the New York Chapter but was ousted from the board of the national organization.
But more relevant in RIOC’s case was her role at New York City’s Off Track Betting.
Kathy Hochul, Political Patronage and Bankrupting OTB
Running against David Dinkins for New York City Mayor, Rudy Giuliani railed against Dukes. What he said is relevant today. Everywhere else in the world, people make money taking bets on horse races, he said. But with Dukes running New York City’s OTB, they were losing money. (The theft for which she pleaded guilty happened within OTB but was not known at the time.)
Eventually, OTB went bankrupt. The alleged culprit: packing the office with high-paid, but unneeded executives under Dukes. Political patronage at its worse.
The possible connection between RIOC’s highly paid, unqualified executives, Brian Benjamin and Hochul grows clearer.
Here’s what Dukes had to say about Benjamin, who is connected with her Harlem party machine, “When this is all over with, it’ll be what I know: Brian did not do anything to break the law.”
Is she also RIOC’s protector?
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