Editorial: This must stop, Governor

Publication: Times Union
By: Times Union Editorial Board

Last year, Gov. Kathy Hochul committed to recusing herself from actions related to Delaware North Cos., and for good reason: Her husband, William Hochul, is a high-level executive at the company.

At the time, with Ms. Hochul promising a new era of ethics and transparency, the step seemed like it would be enough to satisfy concerns about potential conflicts of interest involving the governor’s office and the Buffalo-based food, hospitality and gambling company.

But just eight months later, it has become clear that Ms. Hochul’s recusal was not enough. Troubling conflicts have continued to arise.

We’ll start with the agreement Ms. Hochul’s administration negotiated to keep the Buffalo Bills in New York, which requires the state and Erie County to contribute more than $1 billion in public funds toward the construction and maintenance of a new stadium.

While that extraordinary contribution to the Bills does not directly involve Delaware North, the company has operated concessions, dining and retail services at the team’s existing stadium since 1992 and stands to benefit financially from a replacement loaded with luxury boxes and other amenities designed to generate significantly more revenue.

Indeed, the memorandum of understanding among the state, team and Erie County even specifies the location of the kitchen — likely to be operated by Delaware North — within the stadium and notes that the in-house facility will be responsible for providing most of the food to the building’s “premium areas.” While that alone may not be unusual or cause for suspicion, it illustrates the intertwining of Ms. Hochul’s public business with the private business of Mr. Hochul’s company.

More worrisome is the potential new gambling compact between the Seneca Nation and New York, a deal Ms. Hochul may have to sign.

As the Times Union’s Chris Bragg reported, Delaware North and the Seneca Nation are fierce competitors in western New York’s lucrative gambling market. And as the Seneca allege that the state allows Delaware North to improperly run gambling parlors in its gaming zone, the company has been lobbying Ms. Hochul’s administration on issues related to the tribe.

That the administration froze Seneca bank accounts to secure $564 million under the contentious terms of a prior Seneca Nation compact — with much of the money to be used for the new Bills stadium — only complicates the plot.

This can’t continue. Even if Ms. Hochul is, as a spokesperson asserts, “committed to the strictest ethical standards,” the appearance of impropriety is real enough to arouse suspicion from a public that is already inclined to believe the worst of state government.

Ms. Hochul must find a way to put more distance between her office and business involving Delaware North, perhaps by turning some of her responsibilities over to independent arbitrators. If that’s not possible, Mr. Hochul must step down from his roles as senior vice president, general counsel and secretary at Delaware North.

Both Hochuls should consider what’s at stake: The success of the governor’s administration, for one, but also her important pledge to restore faith in the honesty and legitimacy of state government.