The pledge that Gotham Ghostwriters makes to its clients is as simple as it is bold: “If you can dream it, we can write it.”
So when Gov. Kathy Hochul of New York needed to dream up something exceptionally grand this year for the annual State of the State address, the Manhattan ghostwriting firm was a good fit. For $25,000, it helped hire a writer to produce a 277-page book, “Achieving the New York Dream,” that outlined Ms. Hochul’s agenda and set the stage for budget fights over housing policy, tax rates and the state’s bail law that continue.
It was not the only outside firm lending a hand, according to documents obtained by The New York Times through a public records request.
Although she has no shortage of in-house communicators, policy analysts and budget experts at her disposal, Ms. Hochul, a Democrat, has spent nearly $2 million on additional help, mostly on the giant consulting firms Deloitte Consulting and the Boston Consulting Group, in shaping her vision for the state delivered each January.
Politicians frequently turn to ghostwriters for major political speeches, and consulting firms have become a mainstay of New York government. But Ms. Hochul’s use of such firms in preparing the annual state message appears to be an unusual, and possibly novel, arrangement.
Representatives of three of Ms. Hochul’s predecessors — Andrew M. Cuomo, David A. Paterson and George E. Pataki — said they had never paid for outside help to prepare for the annual address.
“In theory, people elect a governor for their vision and their core values,” said Melissa DeRosa, a top aide to Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat who did hire Deloitte and Boston Consulting Group for big state projects. “Apparently when those are lacking, taxpayers unknowingly farm it out to multimillion dollar consultants.”
Julie Wood, a spokeswoman for Ms. Hochul, said the outside firms had played supporting roles, helping Ms. Hochul’s policy team catalog proposals from across state agencies to present them to the governor and her senior advisers. Ms. Wood noted that Ms. Hochul had just a short time to hire her own staff and prepare for her 2022 speech, which took place less than five months after she was sworn into office.
“Neither Deloitte nor B.C.G. were involved in giving policy advice or making policy decisions,” Ms. Wood said.
The firms’ work on the State of the State addresses accounts for a sliver of the robust contracting business both do in New York. Mr. Cuomo hired them in 2019 to provide strategic advice to his budget division as he embarked on various agency reforms during a third term that a sexual harassment scandal ultimately cut short.
The two contracts that Ms. Hochul used to pay for the State of the State advice began at around $30 million each under Mr. Cuomo four years ago. They have since ballooned to over $250 million combined, largely as a result of emergency orders during the coronavirus pandemic that allowed state officials to hire more private consultants without competitive bidding or oversight by the state comptroller, records show.
A Deloitte spokeswoman referred questions to state officials. Boston Consulting Group did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Much as the president delivers an annual State of the Union address, New York’s Constitution requires the governor to deliver a state of the state message to the Legislature. Delivered in January, the speech is among the most significant a governor delivers each year, laying the groundwork for months of negotiations and browbeating over the executive budget and other priorities. The governor’s office also produces a lengthy, often dense book that accompanies the speech and elaborates on the policy proposals in it.
This year, Ms. Hochul’s office spent $871,000 on three outside firms to prepare for the speech, the records show. By far the largest amount went to the Boston Consulting Group, which got $838,000 for what is listed as “SOS support.” But the executive chamber also authorized $8,000 to copy-edit the book that Gotham Ghostwriters helped assemble.
The figures were even higher in 2022, when the governor’s office paid an outside writer, an editor and a speech-writing firm, Fenway Strategies, a total of about $60,000. Deloitte received $1,017,221 that year for “project management” for its work on a book and speech that set the tone for Ms. Hochul’s first full year as governor and her re-election campaign.
Dan Gerstein, the chief executive of Gotham Ghostwriters, said he had been approached by Ms. Hochul’s policy director, Micah Lasher, late last year to help find a ghostwriter for the book that accompanied the governor’s speech. He helped connect them with Jordan Michael Smith, a journalist and writer, and he said he did not find that arrangement unusual.
“In my experience, most governors’ offices don’t have people on staff who have experience writing and editing books,” he said.
That may be true, but Ms. Hochul’s predecessors said they had taken a different approach.
“We didn’t do that — ever,” John C. Wolfe, a longtime speechwriter for Mr. Pataki, a Republican, said of hiring additional paid help.
Mr. Cuomo often called on former advisers who had left his administration to help with his elaborate State of the State presentations, which he typically delivered in Albany’s convention center. Those people worked as unpaid volunteers, said his spokesman, Rich Azzopardi.
Mr. Paterson, a Democrat who, like Ms. Hochul, took office unexpectedly after his predecessor resigned, said he had never considered paying for outside help.
“Might have been a good idea,” Mr. Paterson, who did not secure a full term, said with a laugh. “I might still be there.”