Niagara Gazette — ALBANY — Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo has given a former Republican senator who was a key to the legalization of gay marriage a $90,000-a-year job in a move a religious conservative group called payback for the critical vote.
"The moral of this story is that no matter what, Governor Cuomo will protect his own," said the Rev. Jason McGuire, of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms.
McGuire's group had strongly opposed the landmark 2011 measure, which narrowly passed in the Senate, and unsuccessfully sued to try to strike it down.
Good-government groups say the job given to former Sen. James Alesi illustrates how in politics in Albany and elsewhere those in power wield patronage jobs carrying salaries and pensions funded by taxpayers.
"It's a fundamental problem with state government, the use of government positions to reward political allies," said Blair Horner, of the New York Public Interest Research Group. "But that happens everywhere. And in this particular case, it's someone who actually knows something about government and the business world."
Alesi was hired Aug. 14 to the board that hears appeals of unemployment insurance claims to a term that runs through 2017. There was no announcement from the Cuomo administration, which wouldn't say if others were considered or interviewed for the job. Alesi couldn't be reached by telephone for comment Tuesday.
Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi praised Alesi's qualifications for the job, which he said was open since 2011.
"As a longtime small business owner and the former chairman of the Senate Economic Development and Commerce Committee, former Senator Alesi is eminently qualified for this position," Azzopardi said. "He brings a real world perspective and serious policy experience to the job."
Alesi spent 16 years in the state Senate and ran a laundry business through much of western New York. His most recent assignments were on the Commerce, Economic Development and Small Business Committee and the Energy and Telecommunications Committee. He also served on the finance, higher education, investigations and labor committees. He faced uncertain re-election prospects in his district over some local issues even before his gay marriage vote, which led to more critical Republican votes in the Senate. He retired rather than face re-election.
Dick Dadey, of the good-government group Citizens Union, said he doubts the job, first reported on Friday by WHAM in Rochester, was a reward for Alesi's vote.
"It isn't as if he made his marriage vote three years ago contingent on being appointed to a state position years later," Dadey said. "The only possible matter in question would be if there was a quid pro quo at the time, and it's hard to believe that there was such a calculation made three years ago."