The state's Joint Commission on Public Ethics held its newest meeting under a cloud of scrutiny about its openness and questions about its chair. Our Nick Reisman has more from the Capitol.
NEW YORK STATE -- Joint Commission on Public Ethics Chairwoman Janet DiFiore appeared at her first public meeting in Albany since allegations first reported in The New York Post were made that she used her political clout as Westchester County District Attorney to secure welfare benefits for her live-in housekeeper.
DiFiore said, “I've made a statement on this. I've done nothing wrong on anyone's behalf, let alone someone who was an employee for me.”
The claim was made more than a year ago by an investigator in the county Department of Social Services, who is also the head of the Yonkers Independence Party.
The incident raises the question as to whether DiFiore was properly vetted before she was selected by Governor Andrew Cuomo to lead the new ethics watchdog.
“What else could you have possibly done, Nick? She's an elected District Attorney of Westchester County, head of the District Attorneys Association for the State of New York, with an impeccable reputation,” Cuomo said.
After emerging from a close-door executive session DiFiore insisted that she had done nothing wrong and there was a political dimension to the allegations.
“This was generated by a politically motivated attack by a political operative in Westchester County and I'm just not going to speak about it anymore,” said DiFiore.
The governor agrees that the claim of wrongdoing is suspect.
“It's clear there are some political contortions to all of those,” Cuomo said.
Nevertheless, it's the latest controversy for the commission, which has been criticized for operating in secret. In May, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos suggested someone at JCOPE broke the law by leaking the news that GOP Senator Tom Libous is the possible target of an investigation. Cuomo says unspecified changes need to be made.
Cuomo said, “I can see already certain changes that have to be made. The constant dialogue that is coming from the commission I have find troubling.”
The meeting on Thursday began with a JCOPE spokesman asking still and television photographers to leave after only a few minutes, claiming the room was at capacity. But it marked yet another struggle between the commission and the press over access.