Corruption is rife in Albany. New York state lawmakers have been carted off in handcuffs on bribery and corruptioncharges. In response, Governor Andrew Cuomo and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced the forming of a 25-member anti-corruption commission. The commission is headed by Kathleen Rice, Nassau County District Attorney, who lost to Schneiderman in the Democratic primary in the attorney general race and is a close ally of Cuomo.
The forming of the commission and appointment of Rice seemed like a proper step to restore some public trust in the shenanigans at the state capitol.
The commission was proceeding when a situation involving Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver arose. While it is difficult to find a single fool in this complicated mess, this scenario is ripe for multiple candidates. Before getting into the anti-corruption commission’s work, here is some background information on sexual harassment cases involving Assemblyman Vito Lopez. In attempts to settle the situation, Silver entered the negotiations. From The New York Daily News:
The Joint Commission on Public Ethics — which had been criticized for limiting its probe to allegations of sexual harassment made against Assemblyman Lopez — approved on Monday an expanded investigation that will include Silver’s handling of a $103,000 taxpayer-funded settlement with two victims, sources said.
Following a closed-door meeting of JCOPE’s board, Chairwoman Janet DiFiore announced its unanimous decision to launch a “substantial” probe. She refused to provide details, but a source said the panel would conduct a “sweeping investigation that will go where it leads.”
Silver confirmed the widening probe, and said he welcomes it.
Gov. Cuomo, who threatened to create his own commission with subpoena power to look into the settlement if JCOPE did not, defended Silver against charges he cut a secret deal.
“It wasn’t true and it wasn’t accurate,” Cuomo said on Albany radio, referring to that characterization. “It wasn’t a secret deal. It had a confidentiality (clause), but there was no secret deal by the speaker.”
But Kevin Mintzer, an attorney for two other Lopez accusers, said it’s time for Cuomo to stop defending Silver, who he believes should admit what the Assembly knew about Lopez’s actions.
So Cuomo is defending Silver by declaring that there is nothing “secret” just “confidential.” Either way, the public was not being provided the details on misbehavior by an elected official. This is particularly distressing if it is true that Silver and much of the Assembly knew of Lopez’ behavior. It sounds like confidential is just code for not wanting to embarrass politicians.
The situation surrounding Silver gets more complicated because of some legislation that he pushed through for some rich buddies. Details on that are provided by the New York Daily News too:
The anonymous benefactor who tucked lucrative tax breaks for five major city developers into a housing bill was Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, the Daily News has learned.
Several sources involved in the process identified Silver as the source of the quintet’s gold.
Bill sponsors and legislative officials speculated and pointed fingers for weeks when asked about the origin of the controversial abatements. One 57th St. building in Manhattan was projected to save $35 million over 10 years.
Once again, there is an attempt to do things under the radar of public attention. Once again, Silver is at the forefront of that attempt. Enter the state’s anti-corruption commission:
The anti-corruption commission appointed by Gov. Cuomo is looking into the matter, having subpoenaed the five developers.
Silver spokesman Michael Whyland wouldn’t confirm or deny Spinola’s account.
“Like any bill involving the city, it was the product of four-way negotiations” with the city, the Assembly, the Senate and the governor’s office, Whyland said.
Nice, once again the Governor and the Speaker are intertwined in a complex deal. There is no evidence that the Governor is responsible for any questionable activities. It is just that he is too close to some of the questionable dealings. To be fair, the Governor and Speaker must work together, but that doesn’t ease reasonable suspicions.
The matter gets worse when details about the anti-corruption commission’s chair, Kathleen Rice, broke recently.
Silver makes around $400,000 a year moonlighting as “counsel” for the law firm of Weitz & Luxenberg, prominent trial lawyers. The law firm, its partners and their wives have also given $300,000 to Rice for her political campaigns since 2006. Fortunately, no one else on the anti-corruption commission has taken money from Weitz & Luxenberg.
The problem here is not just one of appearances, but practicality. Rice needs to immediately recuse herself from the Silver investigation. Here connections are extensive. Taking 300K from any political contributor is a problem in itself, but when it is from employers of someone who is being investigated by the recipient of that money, there are red flags as big as the state of New York. Many people are questioning how enthusiastically Rice is going to head an investigation into Silver.
At this point, it is increasingly difficult to believe that a thorough investigation is going to be conducted on Silver or any of the other suspects in the multitude of questionable dealings going on in Albany. All this points to the real problem of politicians investigating politicians. They have a vested interest to sweep things under the rug unless the media keeps the spotlight of public attention on it.
Since corruption is an ongoing problem in New York, the state should look at following California’s lead on its redistricting commission. In California, redistricting became a game in which Republicans and Democrats protected each other’s incumbents with safe districts. The voters created an independent commission that has created multiple competitive races that were lacking for years. Other states need to follow that pattern on redistricting, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to follow that model for anti-corruption commissions as well.
While we can’t target a fool at this point, although Silver is a likely candidate, this is a setting with multiple actors auditioning. All the pieces are together for a whitewash before this is over.