State Assembly candidates debate corruption, ethics reform
Editor’s Note: This is the second of four stories detailing The Post-Journal and OBSERVERl debate between 150th state Assembly candidates – incumbent Andy Goodell, R-Jamestown, and challenger Judith Einach, D-Westfield.
The debate between the two candidates running for the 150th Assembly seat on ethics reform for state elected officials got personal.
Incumbent Andy Goodell, R-Jamestown, and challenger Judith Einach, D-Westfield, both believe there should be term limits so elected officials don’t amass too much power while in office. Both candidates also believe that sealed bids for construction contracts should be done in the open during public meetings to decrease the chance of corruption.
During the debate, however, the two candidates disagreed on a couple actions taken by Goodell while serving as assemblyman, a position he has held since 2010.
Einach discussed legislation the state Assembly approved to limited the outside income of members to less than $70,000 a year. She said only four of the 150 members of the assembly voted against the resolution. One of the no votes was Goodell.
Goodell, who told The Observer following the debate that the vote took place in March 2016, said during the debate he didn’t support the legislation for a few reasons. One reason is if you limit outside income you limit a number of quality, hard-working New York residents from running for state office. He said the more people who serve in the legislature who have first-hand knowledge of the challenges facing small businesses makes for a more business-friendly state, which will encourage more economic development and more jobs will be created.
“We need more citizen legislators who are successful on their own, not running (for office) because of money, but because they want to improve the business structure of the state,” he said. “That is why I don’t support making it impossible for successful business people from serving on the legislature.”
Another reason Goodell was against limiting outside income for Assembly members was because none of the controversy involving state legislators involves outside income. He said there are several procedures in place, including a legislative committee that looks at any outside income of more than $5,000 for an elected state officials. He added bribery and “pay to play” are the illegal corruption issues several members of the legislature have been accused and found guilty of committing in recent years.
“None of the scandals have been about outside income other than bribery, which is and always has been illegal” he said.
The third reason Goodell said he voted against the outside income limit for assembly members is because he knew the legislation had no chance to be approved by the state Senate. He said the state Senate never even voted on the bill even after it was approved by the state Assembly.
“There was no possibility of the bill passing. It was dead in the (state) Senate,” he said. “Sadly, some people vote the opposite of what they believe because they knew the bill was dead. It’s theater when they knew there was going to be no (state) Senate vote.”
The challenger Einach also questioned Goodell’s role as an attorney in the sale of Cockaigne resort. In December 2017, the sale of the property went through to the new owners, with Goodell representing the seller. Einach questioned whether there was a conflict of interest when Goodell represented the seller when the new owners received incentives from the County of Chautauqua Industrial Development Agency.
“Appearance matters a great deal in public office,” she said. “We need to be careful when public servants do their business.”
Goodell, who said he dropped a third of his law practice involved with working with local municipalities when he was first elected to the state Assembly, said the seller, who he represented, had nothing to do with the incentives offered by the IDA to the buyers of the resort. He said most of his law practice now is dealing with residential real estate, but he did provide his law services to the seller of Cockaigne because he has a longtime connection with the former owner and the ski resort, where he was also a ski instructor prior to the Austrian Pavilion lodge fire that closed the ski resort in 2011. Under new ownership, the resort held a Brewgrass festival last month, with plans to open for skiers this winter.
“The contract (between the seller and buyer) was agreed to before (the buyers) went to the IDA,” he said. “I didn’t talk to the IDA. I don’t appoint IDA members. I didn’t deal with the IDA. I don’t see a conflict of interest.”