Cuomo and Me: What, No Handshake?
When Mark Green wrapped up Wednesday's final debate in the attorney general race with a reference to the Voice's story about Andrew Cuomo's curious ties to accused slumlord Andrew Farkas, I was sitting in the press row gathering my umbrella and papers.
The next minute I was accosted by George McDonald, a Cuomo supporter who runs a controversial homeless program funded by HUD during Cuomo's reign. McDonald is a rather large and sweaty man with an appetite for confrontation, and he was yelling in my face. "Why don't you write about Steven Green?" he kept saying, referring to Mark Green's brother who, like Farkas, is both a developer and a substantial fundraiser and donor in this race. McDonald stood in front of me bellowing this mantra for a couple of minutes, and, to my surprise, he was soon joined by a second, albeit less inflamed, voice.
Standing next to McDonald in the mahoghany auditorium at the headquarters of the Bar Association of the City of New York, in a room filled with expensively suited lawyers, was none other than the man who expects to be the next Attorney General of the State of New York. Andrew Cuomo had that perpetual half-smile on his lips. "No, he'll never do that. He'll never write about Steven Green," said Cuomo at half the McDonald decibel level. I shook McDonald's hand and reached out for Cuomo's, but he refused to shake it, and moved on.
(Andrew Cuomo, via villagevoice.com)
Cuomo had raised the supposed parallel of Steven Green in his final interview with me before the Voice piece appeared. To my knowledge, no one has ever accused Green of paying millions in kickbacks or grossly mismanaging apartment complexes housing thousands, as Cuomo's HUD accused Farkas of doing. A multimillionaire, Green has dumped tons of money in his brother's campaign coffers, and, in strangely enough, I did write a story in the 2001 mayoral race about how Mark Green's positions on development issues overlapped with his brother's real estate interests. No such questions are relevant in an A.G. contest.
An hour after the debate, Cuomo held a press conference to announce the endorsement of highly respected Connecticut A.G. Richard Blumenthal. Cuomo introduced Blumenthal as his model of what an A.G. should be. But when asked if he had a policy about accepting contributions from anyone he'd negotiated an out-of-court settlement with, Blumenthal said he took "no contributions from anyone doing business with his office," adding that he would in particular not take any donations from an "adversary" in any legal matter. Cuomo winced at the question. He'd not only collected at least $800,000 in contributions from Farkas and his companies, business associates and family members, he'd reported $1.2 million in taxable income from Farkas's Island Capital. And, as the Voice story points out, he'd approved a HUD settlement with Farkas that spared the real estate titan from punishing litigation and allowed him to sell his rental residential portfolio for nearly a billion dollars only five days later. The Farkas largesse began virtually as soon as Cuomo left HUD and set up his first campaign committee in 2001. Cuomo's breezy indifference to the appearances of this seedy relationship have suddenly become an obstacle on the road to the state's top law enforcement position.
Just as I closed this week's article last Thursday, Cuomo had his former counsel and top aide at HUD, Howard Glaser, call me. Glaser, who'd worked for years under Governor Mario Cuomo before joining Andrew at HUD, signed the settlement agreement with Farkas. He'd also funneled an amnesty proposal to the Justice Department that would've protected owners and managers involved in the sort of fee-splitting practices that Farkas had engaged in, a proposition killed by federal prosecutors and investigators. Glaser, who's contributed twice to Cuomo's campaign, was attempting to defend the actions he and the former HUD Secretary had taken in the Farkas case, apparently oblivious to the current state of the Farkas/Cuomo relationship.
"We thought they were scumbags," he said, referring to Bruce Rozet and the affiliated owners of the projects to whom Farkas's management company, Insignia, had paid $7.6 million in kickbacks, according to the court complaint filed on Cuomo's behalf.
"What about the management companies?" I asked.
"Them, too," said Glaser, unwittingly condemning the indispensable man of Cuomo's personal and political life whose management company drained projects of millions in federal fees so he could reward Rozet for awarding him the management contract.