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The Problem with Cuomo

Public Accountability Initiative’s Kevin Connor on the governor and the teachers unions

Kevin Connor is a research provocateur and one of the leading intellects in Buffalo’s burgeoning activist community. The Boston native and 2005 graduate of Harvard University moved to Buffalo five years ago. Since then, he has launched two watchdog research organizations, the Public Accountability Initiative and Little Sis.

His work has garnered press attention, both locally and nationally, connecting dots among the powerful and authoring studies that have called out the false claims of developers and supposedly independent researchers, most notably in PAI’s reports on the Bass Pro project and on the UB Shale Resources and Society Institute.

Investigative Post Editor Jim Heaney interviewed Connor last week. Below is an excerpt of that interview in which Connor offers his assessment of Governor Andrew Cuomo. The full transcript can be found at

Heaney: Let’s talk about Governor Andrew Cuomo. His approval ratings are very strong. He’s perceived as someone who gets things done. You got a different take on Andrew Cuomo.

Connor: I think Cuomo’s very beholden to corporate interests, particularly individuals from the finance sector of New York City who have donated tens of thousands of dollars to his campaigns—directly to Cuomo himself but also to his affiliated organization, the Committee to Save New York, which is this opaque lobbying organization that has fought for his various budget proposals. So the special interests really rule the Cuomo administration, and I would see him as a representative of the one percent in New York State, not fighting to address the wealth gap that is a severe drag on the economy here but actually exacerbating it.

Heaney: How so?

Connor: Any time you see governors going after factions of the middle class like teachers unions, public employees, where people have fair wages and salaries and representation, going after social spending that strengthens the safety net for families in New York State—all of that contributes to the worsening wealth gap in the state.

Heaney: Would you disagree with the notion that public spending in New York State is out of control and that something needs to be done?

Connor: I would say that that narrative is one that’s been pushed on the state by the corporate elite.

Heaney: Isn’t there some truth to it? We do have high tax rates, we do have a generous pensions and public salaries, and that has had some sort of impact on our ability to complete economically.

Connor: I disagree. I don’t think the drag on our economy in New York State is the salary or pension of a teacher who served their community for years.

Heaney: Not individually, but kind of death by a thousand paper cuts. You just don’t buy it?

Connor: I don’t buy it. New York State gives billions of dollars in subsidies through tax breaks to companies, and many of them are the biggest banks in the country or the world. Why do these companies need tax breaks? It makes no sense. Those are things that you don’t hear Cuomo addressing, you don’t hear the corporate elite or the media institutions in the state addressing. Because we’re constantly told that public employees are the problem, teachers are the problem.

In Chicago right now the teachers are standing up to this kind of narrative. When you look at the contributors to the organizations that are fighting the teachers union in Chicago, it’s literally several families of billionaires who are intent on shredding the social safety net, intent on attacking teachers unions and teachers organizations, attacking these middle-class institutions that are not the problem. They’re part of the solution.

Heaney: One final quick question and quick answer. Where should Cuomo be focusing his reform efforts?

Connor: Cuomo has an enormous opportunity in the months and the year going forward to look at the campaign finance system in New York State and address what is a really problematic and corrupt system where individuals and companies can literally cut checks worth tens of thousands of dollars to politicians they want to influence. That’s something that he’s being pushed to address, it’s something he said he wants to address, and it’s a huge opportunity for him going forward.

Jim Heaney is editor of Investigative Post, a nonprofit investigative reporting center focused on issues of importance to Buffalo and Western New York. Visit daily for investigations, analyses, blog posts, and the latest from Tom Toles.

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