ALBANY (TNS) – I don’t mean to shock you or ruin your day, but for a brief moment I began to believe Kathy Hochul was telling us a lie.
Hard to believe I know. Our governor is a politician, and if there’s one quality people associate with politicians, it’s total honesty. Unlike the rest of us flawed people, politicians are paragons of moral virtue. Your word is golden, as everyone knows, and nothing good can come from tarnishing the reputation of the profession.
Nevertheless, I have considered a few facts.
In July, when asked at a news conference about Digital Gadgets, a big campaign donor and the $637 million deal the New Jersey distributor had received from her government, the governor said: “I wasn’t aware that this was a company that had supported me. I’m not following this. My team, you have no idea.
Politicians always say they don’t keep an eye on donors. They also say that posts have no impact on politics. Both claims are, of course, a million percent true.
Donors give huge sums because they have so much respect for the political system, and it’s sheer coincidence – nothing more – if they subsequently come out ahead with hefty contracts.
If you think otherwise, well, check your cynicism.
In this particular case, however, there is a small problem. About a month before the Hochul administration agreed to buy millions of COVID-19 tests from Digital Gadgets for $13 per test — about twice the price per test offered by other retailers — it had one Participated in a fundraiser hosted by the company’s CEO, Charlie Tebele. My colleague Chris Bragg reported on this detail in a story published on Tuesday.
As I said in last weekend’s column, Bragg has written a series of stories about the money Tebele and family members donated to Hochul before and after the state bought 52 million unusually expensive tests – at a time, mind you, when a disaster statement was issued The governor had suspended the normal bidding process for pandemic-related spending.
Tebele, his wife and other family members have donated nearly $300,000 to Hochul’s campaign. Jack Cayre, a Tebele business partner in a related Digital Gadgets company, and his family have donated an additional $418,000. Hochul’s campaign also hired a member of the Tebele family to work as a fundraiser.
So much to keep up! But let’s return to the quote in question. I wasn’t aware that this was a company that had sponsored me.
Could it really be possible that December Hochul did not know that she had attended a fundraising event hosted by Tebele in November?
Sure it is. Hochul might have a shockingly bad memory. Or maybe she participates in so many fundraisers that they blur and one donor flows into the next. When so many incredibly generous people want to give you money, who can keep track?
Following in Bragg’s digital footsteps, I emailed Hochul spokeswoman Hazel Crampton-Hays to ask if she could explain why the Democrat was unaware of the shindig she recently attended would have.
In response, Crampton-Hays said Hochul “did not oversee the procurement process and was not involved in day-to-day procurement decisions.” The governor’s only request was that her team “purchase as many available tests as possible to meet the tremendous need across the state.”
OK. But that didn’t address why, so soon after the fundraiser, the governor said she didn’t know Digital Gadgets was a donor.
Meanwhile, Bragg reported, Digital Gadgets has declined to say how the company got in touch with the Hochul administration regarding the sale. Worse, Hochul’s campaign has declined to answer questions about interactions between its staff or the governor with the company.
I’m ashamed to admit it now, but pondering all these disturbing details left me in a dark place. I was beginning to suspect that the governor might have been a little dishonest with us, that she might even have…fibbed. It was a terrifying prospect, disillusioning and confusing. Suddenly nothing made sense anymore.
Was I still in New York, where elected officials are known for their integrity, or had I been transported to a murky underworld like, say, New Jersey? I started sweating and my heart started racing. The room started spinning.
In fact, I was on my way to utter despair when I came across something else, Crampton-Hays wrote in her email: “As we have always said, campaign contributions have no bearing on government decisions and we deny any other implication.”
Oh man. I can’t tell you what a relief it was to read that. My pulse slowed, the darkness lifted, the planet returned to its axis.
Now I know what a mistake it was to doubt the governor. Politicians are honest. We know this as surely as we know birds sing. Why would I have allowed myself to think differently, even for a moment?
(Email Albany Times Union columnist Chris Churchill at [email protected].)
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