State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins repeatedly refused to weigh in Thursday on the $637 million “pay-to-play” scandal engulfing Gov. Kathy Hochul — saying she was satisfied with her fellow Democrat’s vague denial of wrongdoing.
At an unrelated press conference in her district, Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) — who along with Hochul and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) controls the state’s legislative agenda — wouldn’t answer a question from The Post about Republican demands for the Legislature to launch probes into the COVID-19 test contracts awarded to one of Hochul’s top campaign donors.
“I don’t have a comment on that,” Stewart-Cousins said.
“I certainly know the GOP has called for it, and they said — obviously, I think the governor has answered. At this point I’m not responding.”
The state’s No. 3 elected official also wouldn’t respond when reminded by the same reporter of her partisan attacks over the 2015 corruption conviction of Republican predecessor Dean Skelos, or address a recent accusation by Assembly Minority Leader William Barclay (R-Fulton) that Democratic legislators were “covering up for one of their own.”
“I don’t really have anything that I can enlighten you with right now,” Stewart-Cousins responded.
Heastie didn’t return a request for comment regarding a potential probe.
Hochul, who faces challenger Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Long Island) in the Nov. 8 election, has been on the defensive since it was revealed in July that New Jersey-based Digital Gadgets was paid $637 million to supply the state with 52 million COVID-19 test kits.
The consumer technology company is owned by Manhattan resident Charlie Tebele, who, with his family, has contributed about $330,000 to Hochul’s campaign.
Tebele’s no-bid contracts charged New York an average of $12.25 per kit, over 80% more than the $6.75 that California paid for the exact same at-home rapid tests, according to the Albany Times Union, which first exposed the deal.
Earlier this week, the paper also revealed Hochul suspended competitive-bidding rules for the purchase of pandemic-related supplies just four days after Tebele hosted a Nov. 22 fundraiser for her.
The payments to his company began a month later, according to the Times Union.
In her most extensive public comments to date about the deal with Digital Gadgets, Hochul insisted to reporters on July 20, “I was not aware that this was a company that had been supportive of me.”
“I don’t keep track of that. My team, they have no idea,” she added.
State Republican Chairman Nick Langworthy, an upstate Congressional candidate, called Democratic refusals to investigate Hochul “a prime example of the cozy, corrupt cabal that we are trying to break up by returning balance and accountability to Albany.”
“Democrats have all turned a blind eye to each other’s corruption and Hochul knows she doesn’t have to answer to the legislature or [Democratic Attorney General Letitia James], butt we are urging voters who are sick of the corruption to take their power back and throw her out of office this November,” he said.
US Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-Staten Island, Brooklyn), a former member of the state Assembly, said Stewart-Cousins “should care that her constituents are being fleeced by our governor and forced to pay twice as much for COVID tests sold to the state by one of her biggest campaign donors.”
“This is corruption and New Yorkers deserve answers and accountability,” she added.
Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt (R-Lockport) accused Democrats in his chamber of “giving a pass to corruption within their own party.”
“If the Senate Democrats want to have any credibility when it comes to restoring the people’s faith in their government, they will stop being complicit and begin an immediate investigation into these disturbing allegations,” he said.
Former Republican US Sen. Al D’Amato called the Digital Gadgets deal “incredible” and said Hochul was making her predecessor — former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who resigned over sexual harassment allegations — “look like a choir boy.”
“New York spent twice as much as California. It’s criminal,” he said.
“She sold herself for $300,000 in contributions.”
US Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-Glens Falls) predicted that “Stewart-Cousins’ dismissal of corrupt Kathy Hochul’s pay-for-play scheme is why Republicans will surge to victory across New York State this November.”
“New Yorkers have had enough of the rampant corruption in Albany,” she said.
Meanwhile, John Kaehny, executive director of the Reinvent Albany reform group, said he thought it was politically “prudent” for Stewart-Cousins to remain mum because “it’s a few months out from the election and she doesn’t want to give the other party something to run with.”
“There’s still a lot of basic questions around this that if I was the Senate leader I’d want to know: How did this come to pass? What were the conversations with Tebele?” he said.
“She could also say that it behooves the governor to come clean on this and dispel these accusations.”
Kaehny also said his group has “called for a federal investigation because the test kits were purchased with federal money” and because “the federal government is better equipped to thoroughly investigate this.”
When asked for comment, Hochul’s press secretary referred to a Tuesday statement that denied Tebele’s donations had an effect on his contracts and said the governor “did not oversee the procurement process and was not involved in the day-to-day procurement decisions.”
“She simply instructed her team to purchase as many available tests as possible to meet the tremendous need across the state, and they did exactly that to keep New Yorkers safe,” the statement said.
A James spokesperson declined to comment.