Molinaro jabs Cuomo as ‘Putin on the Hudson’
ALBANY — The state government’s efforts to expel Charter Communications from New York have spilled into the race for governor, with GOP nominee Marc Molinaro casting Gov. Andrew Cuomo Tuesday as “Putin on the Hudson.”
In his sharpest attack on the incumbent to date, Molinaro argued that the state Public Service Commission’s abrupt decision to force Charter out of the state was apparently engineered by Cuomo and his “surrogates,” a charge the governor’s team quickly denied.
“We’ve got a megalomaniac on our hands, a veritable ‘Putin on the Hudson,'” said Molinaro, the Dutchess County executive and former state lawmaker.
Cuomo’s late father, three-term Gov. Mario Cuomo, was tagged with the nickname “Hamlet on the Hudson” after he mulled but never entered the 1992 presidential contest.
Charter, the state’s largest cable television operation, is the parent of Spectrum News, consisting of several satellite operations in upstate and New York City, providing around-the-clock news and weather information to viewers.
In attacking Cuomo, Molinaro cited an encounter the governor had with a reporter for NY1, one of the Spectrum News outlets.
When the reporter asked Cuomo whether he would return campaign donations from donors tied to Crystal Run, a health care facility that won state approvals while the contributions flowed to the campaign, the governor lectured him about his employer.
Molinaro, who has consistently trailed Cuomo in statewide polls, contended that Cuomo was “acting more like a third-world dictator trying to intimidate the news media into dropping stories than an elected democratic leader who respects the First Amendment and has nothing to fear from it.”
“No conspiracy theory”
Cuomo spokesman Richard Azzopardi said the governor was unaware of state regulators’ decision to scrap its franchise agreement with Charter until after the decision was made last month.
He also said there are no facts to back up Molinaro’s “conspiracy theory.”
The Public Service Commission determined that Charter violated its agreement with the state to complete a buildout into unserved areas of its territory in the timetable called for by the state.
Azzopardi said Charter has now suspended running ads that claimed the company was “ahead of schedule” in building out its services to consumers while its news operation made no mention to subscribers that Cuomo asked the Attorney General’s Office to investigate the company for alleged consumer fraud.
A spokesman for Charter, Andrew Russell, said Spectrum has extended its reach to more than 86,000 New York homes since the 2016 merger was approved by the state.
He also pointed to assurances that the company’s chief executive officer, Tom Rutledge, gave to investors last week that it was complying with New York’s directives.
“We live up to our commitments, and we have in New York state,” Rutledge said in the earnings call, according to a transcript provided by Russell. “In fact we’re well ahead of our obligations in terms of speed upgrades, and in buildout itself.”
Who would take over?
If the state does remove Charter from New York, it is not immediately certain which telecommunication company or companies would take over its service territories.
Jim Becker, an executive with Middleburgh Telephone, a regional telecommunications company that serves parts of Otsego, Schoharie and Albany counties, said his firm and other companies would “absolutely” be interested in expanding in places now served by Charter.
“It’s very clear that Charter isn’t meeting its obligations, and given the size they are, they may be able to get away with that in some of the states they deal in, but I don’t think our PSC and the Governor’s Office have any interest in that.
“I think they expect folks to do what they agreed to do.”
State regulators have also raised concerns relating to safety. James Fogg, a lineman employed by a Charter subcontractor, was electrocuted after he hit a high voltage line near Buffalo.
State regulators later found that Charter and its subcontractors had had “numerous incidents” involving violations of the National Electric Safety Code.
Richard Brodsky, a former lawmaker who headed the Assembly Corporations Committee, giving him oversight of utility matters, said the Public Service Commission was acting appropriately by evaluating Charter’s performance in delivering services it agreed to provide.
Whether the decision to expel the company was proportionate to its alleged failure to go along with state direction is “a separate discussion” since it is not being accused of violating state law but the terms of a merger approval, he said.
“The best thing they can do now is get the hell back into compliance,” Brodsky said.
Meanwhile, thousands of New Yorkers still lack a broadband connection.
Sen. Rob Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, said he hopes the Public Service Commission’s threat to Charter’s New York license “in no way threatens the project build-out date of 2019 and 2020 for many of the most underserved and rural areas of our state.”