New York AG David Thompson submits motion challenging Andrew Cuomo’s control of New York state’s state universities

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s many problems with the Washington State Supreme Court are not new.

From overzealous prosecutors to Wall Street corporate interest groups with political ambitions, Cuomo hasn’t exactly enjoyed a honeymoon when it comes to Washington State politics.

But sitting on top of nearly $100 million from a California-based hedge fund he once represented, in 2012, he bucked the state capital, which strongly opposed a constitutional amendment giving property tax breaks to hedge fund managers and other private investors in order to spur economic development in rural areas.

And now, state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, a Democrat, is challenging Cuomo’s history of trying to effectively micromanage the sprawling administration that manages resources in the State University of New York (SUNY) System, which runs campuses, colleges and research centers throughout the state. In a court filing last week, Ferguson proposed that the four SUNY colleges — Albany, Buffalo, SUNY Buffalo, and Stony Brook — should be able to choose their own chancellor and presidents, instead of having the top leader at each campus report to the governor.

Whether Ferguson prevails in a public appeal to the state high court to reverse Cuomo’s appointment of SUNY President Shirley Ann Jackson is an open question. As other plaintiffs have in the past, Ferguson raised the fact that Cuomo, in his capacity as an outsider, shouldn’t be able to handpick his successor. “The governor should stay out of the admissions and hiring process for statewide leadership,” he argued in his filing.

On the page Ferguson is also citing to back up his argument is a piece titled “If Scandal, Unemployment, Backlash Weren’t Enough, Cuomo is Waging War on Success: Once again, he is unilaterally cutting back on the power of SUNY leaders and undermining their autonomy.”

Ferguson argues in his filing: “A governor’s power over appointees should not be so expansive that it tramples basic democratic rights of accountability and self-government.”

For his part, Cuomo’s office argues that he was simply doing what presidents, county sheriffs and even some states’ attorneys general do, of putting in place the appointment and leadership structure that fits an institution of that size and size in a state with notoriously poor or nonexistent alternatives to public higher education in rural areas. Cuomo was just following the rules that require him to make a report to the State Legislature about who he has appointed to lead the SUNY system each year and that the legislature needs to act on the reports.

Judge David Wiggins of Thurston County Supreme Court denied the court review the Cuomo administration sought of his appointment of Jackson in 2016, which was made when she served as interim president at Buffalo State College. Wiggins said they wanted to act without an advisory committee that existed prior to her appointment but has been eliminated by Cuomo. The judge also said that he decided not to review Jackson’s appointment since her time at Buffalo State was limited.

“The Attorney General’s motion is a thinly veiled attempt to undo the bipartisan approval process established by this court,” said Deborah Weinstein, a spokeswoman for one of the lawyers representing the Cuomo administration. “SUNY had a very specific job description that the Governor specifically addressed during his May 1, 2018 appointment. The University of Albany, SUNY Albany, and State University of New York Stony Brook shared in that process.”

Read more about this case here.

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