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Joseph Percoco, Andrew Cuomo's Bodyguard
Just as Mr. Cuomo, the Attorney General of the State of New York is about to announce his run for Governor, we hear about his aide threatening people who may oppose his boss or question anything that he says. At the same time, Monica Connell, Assistant Attorney General prosecutes people in federal court who file lawsuits against the corruption rampant in the State that Cuomo should not be tolerating. Wake up New Yorkers!
April 7, 2010
In Cuomo’s Corner, a Pugnacious Aide Emerges

When members of the painters’ union heckled Andrew M. Cuomo as he arrived at a debate during the race for attorney general, Joseph Percoco, a burly aide to Mr. Cuomo, walked over to the union’s political director with a warning:

“I never forget,” Mr. Percoco said.

A few days after Christmas, Bo Dietl, the celebrity private detective, was soaking in a friend’s hot tub in Florida when his cellphone rang. It was Mr. Percoco, angry about a comment Mr. Dietl had made to the New York Post’s gossip page, in which he suggested Mr. Cuomo should “beware” of Gov. David A. Paterson, his then-rival in the governor’s race.

“Bo,” Mr. Percoco asked, according to Mr. Dietl, “is that a threat against Andrew Cuomo?”

And when Mr. Paterson — with low poll numbers, little money and no support from senior state Democrats — announced a three-stop tour in early February to begin his election campaign, Mr. Percoco called around to get the names of the few local officials who might have been planning to appear with him — hoping to discourage them from going.

The attorney general has tried mightily to convey the idea that he has yet to focus on a run for governor, and he ducks any discussion of it. But at the same time, he has unleashed Mr. Percoco, his most pugnacious aide, to marshal his supporters, undercut his rivals and clear a path for him to become the prohibitive favorite in the race for governor of New York.

Few people outside of New York political circles have ever heard of Mr. Percoco, 40, a former high school linebacker and advance man for the attorney general’s father, Mario M. Cuomo, when he was governor.

But as Mr. Cuomo prepares to formally enter the governor’s race, Mr. Percoco, who holds the state job of special counsel to the attorney general, is emerging as a powerful and sometimes provocative figure.

“I was kind of shocked that this guy would respond to this article this way,” said Mr. Dietl, who has clashed with the Cuomos occasionally in the past.

Those who know Mr. Percoco personally are less shocked. Even by the standards of the Cuomo world, where loyalty is highly prized and grudges long kept, Mr. Percoco is known as intensely devoted to Mr. Cuomo and quick to respond to slights, real or perceived. A call about Mr. Percoco frequently yields a hurried clarification that the conversation is off the record, followed by protestations of his gentle nature. Those willing to discuss their disagreements with him say they respect his directness.

“Everyone should have someone like that working for them,” said Jack Kittle, the painters’ union official. “You don’t see that very often today. He has no other interest or agenda except in being the man behind the man.”

Of the small group of aides who join Mr. Cuomo for daily strategy meetings, Mr. Percoco is the only one with longstanding ties to the Cuomo family. Raised in New City, he began his political career as a “body man” and a scheduler for the attorney general’s father. In the late 1990s, he joined the younger Mr. Cuomo at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, where Mr. Cuomo was secretary. (In between, he earned a law degree from St. John’s University, and planned events for former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and the former public advocate Mark Green.)

When Mr. Cuomo made a disastrous bid for governor in 2002, Mr. Percoco was there, driving his own car to Buffalo and back to save money on plane tickets. When Mr. Cuomo decided to run for attorney general in 2006, Mr. Percoco left a lucrative job at the consulting firm KPMG and came on board as political director, helping guide Mr. Cuomo toward the victory that resurrected his political career.

Though Mr. Percoco declined to be interviewed for this article, colleagues described him as a combination advance man, political adviser and intergovernmental liaison. In an office of lawyers and former prosecutors, Mr. Percoco is one of the few with deep political experience.

His political work has raised eyebrows: Mr. Percoco is not only a senior attorney at the state’s most powerful law enforcement agency, but has gone so far as to help organize fund-raisers for Mr. Cuomo. Aides to Mr. Cuomo said that his political role is not only appropriate but inevitable, given that the attorney general is also an elected official. Mr. Percoco is no more aggressive, they said, than those who held similar jobs for Mr. Cuomo’s predecessor, Eliot Spitzer.

Above all, he is a person who knows how to get things done.

Early in Mr. Cuomo’s term, Mr. Percoco helped devise a new program for reviewing the legislative pork known in Albany as “member items,” the source of much scandal in recent years. More recently, Mr. Percoco helped shepherd a measure through the Legislature to make it easier to consolidate layers of local government in New York. Despite the initial opposition of many lawmakers, who worried that it would shrink both parties’ patronage mills, the bill sailed through both houses.

“Joe is the guy who takes the big legal theories and translates it into a practical reality,” said Steven M. Cohen, Mr. Cuomo’s chief of staff. “How do you actually accomplish these initiatives? Who has a stake? What are the effects going to be? And how do you move them forward?”

But Mr. Percoco’s activities go far beyond helping Mr. Cuomo make cases or pass bills. In late 2008, for example, when Mr. Paterson was considering whether to appoint Caroline Kennedy to a United States Senate seat, Mr. Cuomo publicly insisted he was staying out of the contest. Meanwhile, Mr. Percoco worked the phones with labor leaders and elected officials, questioning Ms. Kennedy’s credentials and urging them to refrain from embracing her as a candidate. (Mr. Cuomo’s office has denied that Mr. Percoco criticized Ms. Kennedy during those calls or urged others to do so.)

Last year, as Mr. Paterson was preparing for a primary battle, Mr. Cuomo never publicly admitted that he planned to run against the incumbent. But privately, Mr. Percoco and others made clear to key Democrats around the state that Mr. Cuomo was merely waiting for the right moment.

Even now, with Mr. Paterson safely out of the way, Mr. Percoco remains vigilant against any threats to Mr. Cuomo’s aura of inevitability.

Francine Turner, the political director of the Civil Service Employees Association, the largest union of state employees, recalled Mr. Percoco calling her not long ago after her boss, the union’s president, was quoted in a newspaper article criticizing Mr. Cuomo.

“Joe just went nuts,” Ms. Turner recalled, not without fondness. “I told him, ‘Joe, you got to toughen up if you guys are going to run for governor.’ ”

January 7, 2009
Cuomo Aide Is Said to Try to Slow Kennedy Bid

Even as Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo insisted he was staying out of the competition for New York’s soon-to-be-vacant Senate seat, a top Cuomo aide urged labor leaders and upstate officials to refrain from embracing Caroline Kennedy for the job, according to several people with direct knowledge of the conversations.

Two of the people, including a prominent upstate Democratic operative, said the Cuomo aide, Joseph Percoco, had suggested the upstate officials give Ms. Kennedy a cold reception and had questioned her credentials.

“He said, ‘Don’t you think it should be someone who understands upstate? Don’t you think it should be someone with experience? Shouldn’t it be somebody who knows New York better?’ ” said the operative, who spoke anonymously out of fear of antagonizing the attorney general. “They’ve been trying to feed people.”

In a separate conversation with a top union official, Mr. Percoco was less direct, but suggested that the attorney general was interested in the Senate seat for himself.

“It wasn’t a specific Caroline Kennedy conversation,” the official said. “It was, ‘I can’t say he wants you to tell people he wants it, but you should, wink-wink, nudge-nudge, know that he kind of wants it,’ ” the official said, referring to Mr. Cuomo.

The calls from Mr. Percoco were made shortly before Ms. Kennedy embarked on her tour of upstate cities on Dec. 17, a critical period as she introduced herself to the public and the political establishment.

Around the same time, Mr. Cuomo himself advised one labor leader in New York to delay any endorsement of or meeting with Ms. Kennedy until the selection process had played out more, according to one union official with knowledge of the call.

A spokesman for Mr. Cuomo, John T. Milgrim, strongly denied any effort to undermine Ms. Kennedy. He acknowledged on Tuesday that Mr. Percoco had spoken with a variety of labor leaders and officials upstate in recent weeks, including the mayors of Rochester, Syracuse and Buffalo or their aides and Assemblyman Joseph D. Morelle, the Democratic leader of Monroe County.

But Mr. Milgrim disputed that Mr. Percoco had criticized Ms. Kennedy or urged others to do so.

“This is simply untrue,” said Mr. Milgrim. “We haven’t lobbied for or against anybody. This is just more anonymous sources spreading false gossip and perpetuating the circus-like atmosphere.”

In a statement, Mr. Cuomo did not address his private conversations with other officials but said: “I don’t believe people should be pressuring the governor. That’s what I’ve said, publicly, privately, from day one.”

Through Mr. Milgrim, Mr. Percoco declined to comment.

Mr. Percoco, who was the political director of Mr. Cuomo’s 2006 campaign, is now an assistant attorney general, whose official work keeps him in regular contact with labor leaders and upstate officials. Fiercely loyal and press-shy, Mr. Percoco is also widely known around the state as Mr. Cuomo’s enforcer.

Publicly, Mr. Cuomo has said repeatedly that he is not promoting himself for the job, and he has also spoken fondly of Ms. Kennedy, the cousin of his ex-wife, Kerry Kennedy.

It will fall to Gov. David A. Paterson to choose a successor to Senator Hilary Rodham Clinton, who is expected to be confirmed as secretary of state in the incoming Obama administration.

Some watchdog advocates said while such politicking by government employees does not appear to be illegal, it was inappropriate.

Kevin Sheekey, a deputy to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, has drawn criticism for his intense lobbying for Ms. Kennedy, with some questioning why a highly paid city official is spending his time on the subject.

“The bottom line is, just like Kevin Sheekey shouldn’t be making these calls on city time, anybody working for the attorney general’s office shouldn’t be making similar calls on state time,” said Susan Lerner, the executive director of Common Cause.

“But this is the kind of conduct that happens all the time when there are no clear guidelines.”

Some of the officials who spoke with Mr. Percoco said the discussions seemed to be aimed chiefly at keeping Ms. Kennedy from locking up the appointment quickly, at a time when she appeared to be emerging as the overwhelming favorite for the seat.

But her upstate tour drew mixed responses from officials and editorial pages there, and in subsequent days, intense scrutiny of Ms. Kennedy’s finances and a barrage of contentious press interviews took more of the sheen off her candidacy. Mr. Cuomo has remained a top contender for the job even though he has not publicly declared any interest in it.

More recently, Mr. Cuomo and his aides appear to have hunkered down, avoiding discussion of the Senate seat even with friends and allies.

Governor Paterson, for his part, has worked to quash speculation that there is any favorite for the Senate job, and has said that none of the contenders have been ruled out.

“There’s one choice. It’s the one the governor will make. And in the end everybody will understand that,” Mr. Paterson said at a news conference on New Year’s Day.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Paterson declined to comment further Tuesday.

Mr. Cuomo, a former cabinet secretary and top adviser to his father, Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, earned a reputation early in his career for his sometimes stormy personality. But he has been given high marks since taking over as attorney general in 2007, and polls show New Yorkers would approve of his appointment to the Senate seat.

Mr. Percoco’s efforts are but one strand of the complex behind-the-scenes jockeying for Mrs. Clinton’s seat, with prominent supporters of different contenders — including but by no means limited to Mr. Cuomo — lobbying the governor privately and sometimes publicly. Some hopefuls, including Representatives Steve Israel and Carolyn B. Maloney, have hired political operatives specifically to help position them for the appointment.

Harry Reid, the United States Senate majority leader, has called Mr. Paterson directly to offer his support for Ms. Kennedy, and a top aide to Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Ms. Kennedy’s uncle, has worked with union officials in Washington to help arrange meetings between Ms. Kennedy and labor leaders in New York City.

© 2003 The E-Accountability Foundation