The record of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s first online chat with New Yorkers shows the Democrat skipped an onslaught of increasingly pointed questions about hydraulic fracturing for natural gas and some other thorny issues and criticism.
Several New Yorkers asked during the chat to see all the questions, or a way to obtain them. Cuomo didn’t answer.
Five months later, the record of the online town meeting was released under a Freedom of Information Law request by The Associated Press, submitted in September.
“We get requests for thousands of pages of documents and respond as quickly as possible,” Cuomo spokesman Josh Vlasto said Thursday.
The Sept. 24 chat was part of Cuomo’s transparency effort. He plans to release the records obtained by the AP to his Citizens Connects website Thursday (www.governor.ny.gov/citizenconnects/).
The Saturday morning online chat from Cuomo’s kitchen in Westchester County was billed as a town hall forum and part of his stated campaign promise to create the most transparent administration in history. In office, he has been criticized in press reports for restricting the release of public records and holding more, not fewer, closed-door talks with legislative leaders.
During the chat, Cuomo told participants he would pick questions “that are informative, but not hyper-technical or redundant.”
He answered questions on topics from his plans to create jobs, to promoting wine, and softer questions about how he likes the job and sometimes staying in the governor’s mansion where he grew up when his father, Mario Cuomo, was governor.
Many praised the governor who, in just nine months in office, delivered a timely budget with a rare spending cut, adopted a cap on the growth of property taxes and legalized gay marriage, among other accomplishments.
“Thank you. Thank you. THANKS SO MUCH!!!” wrote Brianne of Millerton.
Last names were omitted from the records released to the AP.
During the chat, he answered questions such as what is his favorite part of the job — “helping people.” But, skipped questions on hydraulic fracturing, or hydrofracking. That’s the process in which chemical-laden water is blasted into the earth to crack shale formations and release natural gas. The process has been sharply criticized by environmentalists. New York is currently considering regulations governing the practice.
Cuomo offered the broad response that he still uses: “My point all along is to make the decision on hydrofracking based on the facts and on the science. This is not an issue to be decided by politics or emotion. DEC’s process is fair, intelligent and open and I am letting the process proceed.”
Cuomo said the forum wasn’t right for the topic and referred questions to an online chat to be held by Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens in October.
New Yorkers continued to post questions that only Cuomo and Vlasto, the governor’s press secretary saw, and the questions reflected increasing anger.
“I’m very disappointed that you will not take questions on keeping NY’s water clean today,” stated Glenn from southwestern New York. “The questions on fracking are just like other questions and is a big issue in NY.”
“WHY ARE YOU NOT LISTENING THE CITIZENS?” asked Ruth from New York, according to the records released to the AP.
Cuomo also passed on questions about other thorny issues, from being asked to defend local prison closings that cost jobs, to his plans to enhance mass transit, to more basic issues like the state’s “ugly license plate.” He also received several personal pleas for jobs or intervention in disputes with landlords and hospitals.
Cuomo also received more praise than he showed in the online chat, as well as some criticism that didn’t appear at all.
“Good morning, governor,” stated Marie from Mount Pleasant. “You are doing a wonderful job! It is nice to know that you are an honest man! We need more of that in government!”
“You’re the best!” added Giovanni of the Bronx.
The direct criticisms were fewer, and some critics wouldn’t put their names to the posting.
“You act like a dictator and bully,” said Stephen of Rome, upset that the Oneida Correctional Facility was being closed. Stephen claimed it was politically motivated, not based on the prison’s viability. “I dare you to answer my question with facts, not just blanket statements. Good luck.”
Other questions sought to pin Cuomo down on his view of issues that he would soon change — like adopting a millionaire tax — or whether the Senate’s Republican majority should add a 63rd seat that could help protect their power in redistricting. Others submitted jokes.
But several participants grew concerned about Cuomo’s control of the live town hall session.
“This is looking more like a campaign event than a public forum — all softball questions intended to boost your image,” said Krys from the Finger Lakes, who submitted several fracking questions. “Are you using state funds to pay the people who are working with you on this event? Is that ethical, if the purpose is just to burnish your image and popularity?”
Not all agreed.
“This is a great idea,” said Frank from Long Lake in the Adirondacks. “Why did you decide to do this?”
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.