SUNY chancellor

Jim Malatras, a former aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, is chancellor of State University of New York.

ALBANY (TNS) — Gov. Kathy Hochul will continue to work with her disgraced predecessor’s appointees at the State University of New York Board of Trustees, as well as SUNY Chancellor James Malatras, a longtime confidant of former Gov. Andrew Cuomo who was installed by the board a year ago.

Hochul in recent weeks has purged her administration of many Cuomo-era officials, pledging a more open and transparent state government, but has no direct power over the chancellor position, which is filled by the board.

The governor selects 15 of 16 voting members of the Board of Trustees for fixed seven-year terms. When their terms expire, trustees remain in their positions at will until they are reappointed or replaced.

Cuomo reappointed seven holdovers on the board in June 2021, precluding Hochul from naming any new trustees for at least a year.

Three Cuomo-appointed trustees have terms set to expire next June, ahead of the 2022 gubernatorial election which is slated for Nov. 8.

The board backs Malatras, who in March drew scrutiny for his role in the state’s report on COVID-19-related nursing home deaths that was edited to make the death toll seem lower, sparking an investigation by the U.S. Justice Department.

In an emailed statement, the SUNY Board of Trustees said they have “full confidence” in their chancellor, noting that he has steered the 64-campus system through challenges brought on by the pandemic.

”Chancellor Malatras was, and is, the right leader for the times. Chancellor Malatras is an energetic student-centric leader who is transitioning us out of the pandemic and positioning SUNY as the groundbreaker in training the workforce of today and tomorrow, as well as leading innovation that spurs economic growth,” the statement reads.

Many SUNY trustees have strong ties to the Cuomo administration, including former Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy, former Secretary of State Cesar Perales and Eric Corngold, who was Cuomo’s deputy when he was attorney general.

The terms of James Haddon, Richard Socarides and Cary F. Staller expire next year.

Corngold, Edward Spiro, Eunice A. Lewin, Stanley Litow, Christy Woods, Courtney Eagles Burke and Joseph Belluck were formally reappointed by Cuomo in June.

At the time, Cuomo was under investigation by the state Assembly, which was considering impeachment, and also the office of Attorney General Letitia James for his alleged sexual harassment of multiple women. James’ investigations, summarized in a report released on Aug. 3, found that the governor had sexually harassed or acted inappropriately with 11 women, many of them current or former state employees. It also implicated members of his administration who sought to discredit the alleged victims. He announced his resignation on Aug. 10.

Since taking office, Hochul has moved to replace commissioners at the Department of Health, Division of Criminal Justice Services, Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, Office of General Services, and the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services.

Hochul has also vowed to remove from her cabinet anyone mentioned in the attorney general’s report as having contributed to the culture of harassment in the Executive Chamber. Malatras was not mentioned in the sexual harassment report.

When asked whether the governor believes Malatras is the right person to lead SUNY, Hochul spokeswoman Hazel Crampton-Hays said, “A number of dedicated public servants who share a commitment to the governor’s agenda will continue to serve, and we look forward to working with our top tier team to deliver results for New Yorkers.”

The board’s decision to install Malatras at the helm of the state university system and forgo a nationwide search at the recommendation of longtime Cuomo aide Larry Schwartz sparked controversy.

After Malatras’ appointment, the faculty representatives for SUNY’s universities and community colleges announced a vote of “no confidence” in the political appointees over their decision to expedite the selection process.

Malatras, who was on Cuomo’s COVID-19 task force before accepting the position as head of the university system in August, served as a key Cuomo aide from 2007 to 2017 through various administration scandals, including the Buffalo Billion bid-rigging scheme.

Malatras was among top state officials who engaged through private email servers with Todd Howe, a former aide-turned-lobbyist who pled guilty to multiple felonies for his role in the pay-to-play scheme. In emails that emerged during the 2018 federal corruption trial, Howe was found to use his connections to administration officials to gain special treatment for his clients.

Malatras also assisted with the former governor’s controversial pandemic memoir.

He has also served as president of the Rockefeller Institute of Government and later as president of SUNY Empire State College.

In March, Malatras acknowledged he helped edit the nursing home report but denied changing any of its data.

Queens Assemblyman Ron Kim, a critic of Cuomo who chairs the state Assembly’s Committee on Aging, is among a few voices who have called on Malatras to resign.

He said Malatras and other top aides “were willing to suppress life and death information” in order to protect the interests of the governor and his corporate donors in the nursing home and hospital sector.

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