Cuomo recruits public scholarship recipients for campaign ad

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is under fire for obtaining the names of students who received the state’s Excelsior Scholarship and asking them to appear in a political ad.

According to The New York Post, Cuomo’s campaign contacted students who received the Excelsior Scholarship—which offers free tuition at CUNY and SUNY institutions to students with household incomes of $110,000 or below—asking them to appear in an ad supporting Cuomo’s bid for re-election. 

The names were reportedly obtained from a registration list to the governor’s 2018 State of the State speech, which included several scholarship recipients. 

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Nikita Losi, one of the students who was contacted by the campaign, told the publication that he was asked to “appear in some sort of advertisement for Governor Cuomo, to talk about the Excelsior Scholarship and what it means to me and how it impacted my life.”

Obtaining the names of scholarship recipients, however, raised questions about whether the campaign violated federal privacy laws designed to protect personal information of college students. 

A Cuomo spokesperson dismissed such concerns, telling the Post that "colleges obtained students’ permission to provide their information to the state if they were interested in attending the State of the State, and therefore, the Federal privacy law is not at issue."

“The information regarding those invited to the state of the state (including Excelsior students) are public records and can be accessed by any member of the press or the public upon request,” the spokesperson added. 

In an interview with Campus Reform, Losi acknowledged that he had registered for and attended the governor’s speech, but said he is upset that his information was used by the campaign.

"You're supposed to keep politics and government separate,” he said. “You’re not supposed to use the resources. It reflects poorly on the governor.”

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When asked if Losi knew that his name would be made available to third parties when he attended the State of the State address as an Excelsior recipient, the student told Campus Reform that he “didn’t think [my name] would be used in that capacity, considering it was through a state organization.”

In an interview with Campus Reform, a City University of New York (CUNY) John Jay College student, Jose Francisco-Rodriguez, also expressed frustration with the political soliciting. 

When asked if he thinks the politicization of the scholarship is appropriate, the student said “absolutely not.” 

“Just given the fact that there’s a lot of hardworking families in this state that can’t provide for their children to go to college...For the Cuomo campaign to exploit that for their political gain is just sad,” he remarked, saying the experience “shows how corrupt things are.”

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Francisco-Rodriguez also noted that he thinks Cuomo is exploiting those who can’t afford college on their own, arguing that the governor may be using the Excelsior program for purely political purposes.

“[It’s like Cuomo is saying] ‘This is my resume, this is what I’ve done. This is why you should choose me for [governor] for another four years,’” he asserted, adding that the state seems to be suggesting that “‘we gave you the opportunity, now we’re asking for something back from you.’” 

“Being at John Jay there’s a really huge liberal bias,” the student said. “The CUNYs and the SUNYs are instilled in the liberal machine that is [New York State]. We see that because Cuomo and [New York City Mayor Bill] de Blasio are always at the CUNYs and SUNYs signing legislation around college students.”

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