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Cuomo added 374 ‘special assistants’ to state payroll.

Gov. Cuomo padded the state payroll with as many as 374 “special assistants” — creating what critics call a veritable army of loyalists who keep his political machine rolling. The gubernatorial appointees raked in a combined $33.8 million during fiscal 2016-2017, the latest year for which information is available, according to the Empire Center for...
Time: 23:13     Date: 17.07.2018
Metro News: Cuomo added 374 ‘special assistants’ to state payroll. NY Post 24 - US News

The gubernatorial appointees raked in a combined $33.8 million during fiscal 2016-2017, the latest year for which information is available, according to the Empire Center for Fiscal Policy’s “SeeThroughNY” Web site.

Their numbers represent a nearly 70 percent increase over the 222 “special assistants’’ who were on the state payroll during fiscal 2010-2011, when Cuomo was first sworn into office — and they’re costing taxpayers more than double the $15.7 million paid out then.

The vaguely titled workers include the head of the governor’s speech-writing team and a veteran political operative who has since left Cuomo’s administration to work on his campaign for a third term in office.

The governor’s special assistants aren’t subject to civil-service exams or statutory salary limits, and critics accused Cuomo — a potential 2020 presidential contender — of abusing his patronage power for electoral advantage.

“This isn’t just giving a friend a job,” Douglas Kellogg of the conservative anti-tax group Americans for Tax Reform said.

“The governor is using New York taxpayers to foot the bill to pay off and maintain his branch of the Democrat political machine.”

Even fellow Democrat Betsy Gotbaum, a former New York City public advocate who now heads the good-government group Citizens Union, said she was alarmed by the spike in spending.

“Skirting around the edges of civil service has the potential to create conflicts of interest between public service and political campaign service,” she said.

Not all of the special assistants have political connections, and they include one of the state’s best-known employees: longtime lottery-drawing announcer Yolanda Vega, who is a $107,751-a-year special assistant with the state Gaming Commission and who came on board before the Cuomo administration.

The biggest salary doled out for the posts — $178,046 — went to Mahesh Nattanmai, whose LinkedIn profile describes his actual job as “chief digital health strategist” for the state Department of Health.

The No. 2 salary went to Keith Servis, who runs the Department of Health’s Office of Professional Medical Conduct.

During fiscal 2013-2014, his annual salary was $139,325, but it jumped more than 12 percent — to $156,322 — when his title changed to special assistant the following year.

Servis’ 2016-2017 salary then rose to $176,044, according to SeeThroughNY. In addition to directing the OPMC, Servis is also the Health Department’s deputy director of primary care and health systems management, according to Cuomo’s office.

Topousis’ 2016-2017 salary was $140,716, paid by the Office of Children and Family Services, instead of the Executive Chamber.

That arrangement was featured in an Albany Times Union exposé that last year led the Brooklyn US Attorney’s Office to open an ongoing probe into Cuomo’s off-budget hiring practices. His office said Topousis has since been re-classified as an Executive Chamber “confidential assistant.”

In December 2015, Cuomo also hired Abbey Fashouer as a deputy press secretary and later promoted her to first deputy, but put her on the payroll as a special assistant in his office.

Fashouer — whose 2016-2017 salary was $89,089 — recently began serving as Cuomo’s re-election campaign spokeswoman.

“If he wants to go hire political staffers, he should do so on his own dime,’’ said City Councilman Joe Borelli (R-SI).

Both ex-state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and current state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli had special assistants on their 2016-2017 payrolls, but the numbers pale when compared with Cuomo’s, at 77 and seven, respectively.

Cuomo’s hiring also outstrips that of Mayor de Blasio, whom The Post previously revealed to have spent $23.3 million on 298 special assistants during fiscal 2016-2017.

Cuomo spokesman Tyrone Stevens insisted that the governor currently employs fewer special assistants than revealed by the records, saying there were only 305 as of Friday, and compared that number to what he said was an average 304 employed during fiscal 2007-2008.

Stevens also defended Cuomo’s hiring of special assistants as part of a “lawful” tradition that dates back “over 50 years,” and denied it had anything to do with politics.

“We seek to hire the absolute best and brightest to deliver results for New Yorkers. It’s that simple,” he said.

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