ALBANY — A trio of gubernatorial candidates called for greater transparency in state government in an online forum on Wednesday morning.
Republican primary candidates Rob Astorino and Harry Wilson, as well as Democratic primary candidate U.S. Rep. Thomas Suozzi, D-3, participated in a Zoom candidates’ forum hosted by the New York Coalition For Open Government on May 18.
Astorino and Wilson are set to square off with Andrew Giuliani and U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-1 in the GOP primary for the Republican nomination for the governor’s seat on June 28, with Suozzi facing New York Gov. Kathy Hochul in the Democratic primary on the same day.
According to the New York Coalition For Open Government, the group also asked Hochul, Giuliani, Zeldin and Democratic candidate Jumanne Williams to participate in the forum. They all declined.
Astorino told the virtual attendees that he has been an advocate for open government dating back to his time as Westchester County Executive from 2009 to 2017.
“I have always been an advocate for open meetings and open government,” he said. “I walk the walk, because as county executive in Westchester we started putting everything online in advance of the meetings so the public can understand what’s on the agenda.”
Astorino added that the county also televised its board meetings during his time as Westchester County Executive.
“I am a big believer in the public having the right to question their government,” he said on Wednesday. “That is a fundamental principle of our democracy.”
Suozzi, the former Nassau County Executive, detailed his campaign priorities to the group.
“I’m a proven executive who knows how to get things done,” he said. “I’m a common-sense Democrat. I’m not going to pander to the left or the right. I’m going to work with anybody who wants to actually help people. I’ll work with Democrats and Republicans. I’m very clear on my issues: crime, taxes and affordability, helping our troubled schools and helping to correct the most corrupt state in the United States of America. New York State is rated by the Washington Post as the most corrupt state. We’ve lost so many elected officials to scandal and corruption. It’s because of a lack of accountability.”
Republican candidate Wilson said that his decades of experience in the private sector have prepared him to hold public office.
“I’ve spent the last 30 years of my career leading the turnaround of failed organizations, from General Motors to Yahoo,” Wilson said. “That’s why I’m running for governor of New York, to do the same thing for the state. It’s deeply personal to me. I’ve been the proud recipient of the American dream. I grew up in a working class Greek-American family in upstate New York. I was the first in my family to go to college at Harvard Business School.”
The open government organization had prepared a questionnaire for the candidates, with the group asking the three candidates if they supported empowering the state attorney general or another entity with the ability to address compliance issues with open government laws, if they supported amending the Open Meetings Law to mandate that the public has a right to speak at meetings held by public bodies and if they personally used an encrypted app to hide their communications.
“I agree with all of you on all of your issues,” Suozzi said. “I think that the attorney general should be given the power to help the public enforce open meeting laws. I think people should be allowed the make public comments at meetings. I do not use encrypted apps and I don’t think government officials should be using encrypted apps. New York is not competitive. Because we lack competition, we lack openness. Politicians and elected officials don’t listen to the public and what they care about.”
Wilson concurred with Suozzi that he agreed with all four of the issues in the organization’s questionnaire.
“To me, questions around government reform, transparency and accountability are essential to the foundation of a functioning government or any functioning organization,” he said during the forum. “I’ve come to that view after 30 years of dealing with failing organizations. You see patterns, and companies typically fail because the board of governors is not doing its job or the management team commits fraud or there’s a failure of checks and balances. That is time and time again why companies fail and it happens in Albany every day.”
Astorino also agreed with all of the open government group’s priorities.
“There’s been an abuse of things like the message of necessity in the (state) budget process, where the governor will lop a bill onto every legislature’s desk that’s a foot high and tell them they’ve got an hour to vote on it,” he said. “Their leaders obviously agreed with them to do that. That helps nobody. The public never saw it and it didn’t age at all, so we didn’t have a public debate about what’s in it. The legislators are just doing what they’re told and voting the party line because they have no clue what’s in there.”
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