Michael Cohen represented Forest Hills in the State Assembly from 1998 until 2005, when he resigned. Cohen has always maintained that his resignation was because his wife was terminally ill with cancer, and his desire to be closer to her during that time. His wife tragically passed away shortly after he left elected office.
Cohen is now looking to return to public service, one of several candidates running for the seat that will be vacated by Melinda Katz, who is leaving the City Council to run for city comptroller.
However, according to a felony complaint filed against former Liberal Party boss Ray Harding by Attorney General Anthony Cuomo last week, Cohen was enticed to step down through an elaborate abuse of the state pension fund. Harding then allegedly worked to secure support for Hevesi’s son, Andrew, to take Cohen’s place.
Neither Cohen nor Andrew Hevesi has been accused of any wrongdoing. The accusations against Harding are part of the attorney general’s ongoing investigation into the ten years that Alan Hevesi spent as the state comptroller.
According to the charges, Harding worked with former aides to Governor George Pataki to land Cohen a six-figure job with Health Insurance Plan of New York in exchange for leaving the Assembly. He then lobbied the Queens Democratic Party for their support of Andrew Hevesi to fill the empty seat, as well as worked with the governor’s aide to get Pataki to quickly ratify a special election to stymie potential opponents.
In exchange for these political favors, according to the attorney general, Harding received over $800,000 in illegal fees on state pension fund investments under Alan Hevesi’s watch.
“This case strikes at the heart of public integrity and the accountability and transparency the people of New York deserve from their government,” said Cuomo. “The state pension fund should not be used as a political tool.”
Following news of the indictment, at least one of Cohen’s opponents, Mel Gagarin, called on him indirectly to give up his quest to represent the 29th Council District, stating that he hoped Michael Cohen “made the right decision” about his candidacy.
This week, Cohen issued a statement reiterating his commitment to his campaign, and said that he merely expressed an interest to Harding that he would like to work closer to home.
“At no time when I was thinking about leaving the State Assembly did I seek to trade upon my office,” said Cohen. “Among those to whom I expressed an interest in employment closer to home was one now the subject of investigations.
“My campaign to be the full-time councilman for much of the area I represented in the State Assembly is a return to public service that I am excited about,” added Cohen.
Cuomo’s investigation into Hevesi’s stint as comptroller has already resulted in one guilty plea, as well as a 123-count indictment against two former aides to Hevesi.