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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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Cuomo Campaign Taps Taxpayers For Help

The Cuomo administration has expended millions of taxpayer dollars for television ads aimed at promoting state government and burnishing Governor Andrew Cuomo’s image. The latter goal is a tough sell, a Siena College Poll indicates.

The current taxpayer-funded TV advertising campaign began around Sandy’s one-year anniversary, and steers viewers to http://stormrecovery.ny.gov/, The Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery. Narrated by actor Chazz Palminteri, the slick spot closes with a visual tag line which says “Better than before.”

At the storm recovery website, you can read about government programs aimed at assisting Sandy victims. Yet should the Office of Storm Recovery’s website also include the picture of a person holding a sign which says, “Gov. Cuomo, Thank You for Giving Ocean Breeze Closure?” No, it shouldn’t.

The context: the governor has authorized the expenditure of taxpayer monies under the NY Rising Housing Recovery Program to acquire up to 129 properties in Ocean Breeze, a Staten Island neighborhood hit hard by Sandy. The program is completely voluntary but, if the sales price is right — and it is difficult to imagine New York State is driving a hard bargain — what’s not to like for an Ocean Breeze property owner? The parcels purchased by the state will remain as open space and, as public policy goes, it is a prudent move. But why must the state then applaud the governor, on a state-run website, for taking such an action? The answer: so Cuomo 2014’s campaign monies need not be used for this purpose.

Taxpayers, not gubernatorial campaign donors, also funded the state’s Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) spring 2013 television ad buy, which ran for weeks. It touted the “New” New York, an amazing place where the economy is expanding, taxes are being cut, and regulatory burdens are being lifted. The “New” New York exists only in the mind of the advertising copywriter who penned the script and online at www.thenewny.com, the website to which TV viewers were sent by the ESDC. Would it surprise you to learn that the governor’s picture is one of the first things you see at that website’s home page?

Taxpayers, perhaps recognizing their money is being spent in this manner, are underwhelmed with the job performance of the person overseeing the state’s executive branch. The Siena College poll found last month that 39 percent of New Yorkers thought Cuomo was doing a “fair” job while another 17 percent believe the governor is doing a “poor” job. That left 44 percent of the electorate saying the governor was doing an “excellent” (seven percent) or “good” (37 percent) job. In the name of full disclosure, Siena found Governor Cuomo, in head-to-head matchups against prospective Republican candidates, secured 60-plus percent of the statewide vote. Still, if 56 percent of New Yorkers surveyed are giving you a “fair” or “poor” job approval rating, when “excellent” and “good” are options offered to them as well, that cannot be encouraging news.

The thing that bothers me most about all this is that the people whose full-time job it is to cover the Cuomo administration seem to neither notice nor care about the copious use of taxpayer monies to promote certain state agencies directly, and the governor indirectly, on television. Indeed, a front page story in The New York Times late last month had this headline: “Forget TV; to Spread Word, Cuomo’s on Radio.” The article, which must have been written by a reporter without a TV, or one that’s never on, included this preposterous passage: “Half a century after politicians embraced television as a favored means of communication, Mr. Cuomo has determinedly adopted radio as his medium of choice. Week after week, year after year, when he wants to make an announcement, respond to an event, or just chat, he picks up the phone and calls a radio host.”

Well, that’s technically true, I guess. When the governor wants to communicate a message on television, he has no need to pick up the phone. The taxpayers are paying for advertising agencies and media buyers who will do that for him.

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism. Email: MFBARRY@optonline.net