New York State Comptroller Alan G. Hevesi, embroiled in accusations that he used a state employee to chauffeur his wife for more than three years, spoke publicly at Cornell University yesterday, lecturing to an entrepreneurship class about the corporate scandals of the ’90s. Hevesi, a Queens Democrat, has apologized and paid the state more than $83,000.
In the past Hevesi has defended the chauffeuring by citing his wife’s illness, and even security concerns. Yesterday, he became agitated when he was questioned about the chauffeur and seemed to deny the presence of wrongdoing.
“You’re drawing conclusions without knowing the facts,” Hevesi said. “All you know is what’s been said in a newspaper. You don’t know the facts.”
“I’m not going to discuss them with the public until I’ve finished a report through the Ethics Commission that I requested.”
“Don’t believe everything you hear. That’s my quote.”
Hevesi dismissed Albany County District Attorney David Soares’ investigation into his use of the chauffeur.
“He’s investigating in response to a candidate calling him up three weeks before an election,” Hevesi said.
“You’ve asked a question that goes straight to the heart of entrepreneurship,” he said when asked about the chauffeur during the lecture, which was attended by nearly 600 students.
Hevesi talked about his wife’s illness and said the Ethics Commission was looking into seeing, at the state and local level, “Is that inappropriate, is that unprecedented.”
“I am constrained by the fact that there’s depositions being taken and there’s documents being reviewed,” Hevesi said.
The chauffeur became news after Hevesi’s republican opponent, J. Christopher Callaghan, called a hotline set up by the state comptroller’s office to enable citizens to report government wrongdoing.
“We tell our kids in schools: show your work. He hasn’t shown any of his work,” said John Callaghan, the candidate’s son, acting as his spokesman. The Callaghan campaign claims that Hevesi still owes the state more than $210,000, and that the real value of the chauffeur’s services was nearly $300,000. Callaghan also said that Hevesi has not reported how he arrived at $83,000 as the amount he had to pay back to the state.
Callaghan scoffed at Hevesi’s claim that his wife’s illness necessitated the services of the driver, Nick Aquifreda.
“My mom wasn’t able to walk for most of last summer,” he said. “[Hevesi] reached for the easy button.”
“This would be egregious no matter what … but it’s unthinkable that the person in charge of protecting the public fisc, that that person would be the one to do it,” Callaghan said.
“The next time there is a lax in accounting … how can he come in and [expose other officials’ improprieties] with a straight face?”
“Alan Hevesi has used the term adult supervision in scolding various school districts. He could use some adult supervision of his own,” he said.
Callaghan also accused Hevesi of “using state comptroller employees as campaign aides.”
Although Callaghan waxed optimistic that the Hevesi issue would pay off for his father on election day, Christopher Callaghan continues to trail in the polls.
The chauffeur issue broke into the governor’s race when republican candidate John Faso seized upon Attorney General Eliot Spitzer’s endorsement of Hevesi’s reelection. Spitzer defended Hevesi repeatedly at the Sept. 27 gubernatorial debate at Cornell, calling him “an honest, stupendous public servant.”
“What Alan did was wrong; he has apologized; he has paid back. If anybody on my watch did that, trust me, there would be very serious consequences,” Spitzer said.
“Alan Hevesi stole $82,000 from the people of the State … [he] should resign his office because he’s abused his public trust,” Faso retorted.
In response to one of the most biting questions of the evening, which came in the extra time at the end of the debate, Faso criticized Spitzer for endorsing the re-election of Alan Hevesi, one of Spitzer’s Democratic allies. Recent revelations show that Hevesi illegally let his wife use a state worker as a chauffeur for more than three years; Hevesi offered this week to pay the state more than $82,000 for the services.
“It damages Eliot Spitzer’s credibility as a real crime fighter,” Callaghan said yesterday.
During his lecture yesterday, Hevesi discussed the corporate corruption scandals of the ’90s. Hevesi attacked the so-called golden parachutes provided to executives in the Enron, WorldCom and other corporate scandals. People thought, “What the hell? We’re the shareholders. That’s our money. You screwed up,” Hevesi said.
Hevesi noted that his job as comptroller required him to maximize returns on the state’s pension fund for teachers and other public employees.
“I’m not allowed to give pension money out to buy uniforms for the Little League. The state legislature in Albany does that,” he said.
Hevesi, also said he has 2,400 staffers, “almost all of them professionals.”
A tiny gathering of five College Republicans held signs outside Kennedy Hall in the half hour before the talk, supporting Callaghan and calling for Hevesi’s resignation. Marcus Povinelli, who identified himself as Callaghan’s political director, distributed signs and tee shirts and stood with the group.