As Once-Mighty Politician Gets Prison, Albany Moves On

By | May 5, 2016

As former New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was being sentenced to 12 years in prison for corruption, many of the politicians he once served with were passing legislation to outlaw commercial bass fishing in the Hudson River.

Significant proposals to address the Capitol’s chronic corruption problem weren’t on the agenda, and probably won’t be anytime soon.

Many lawmakers seemed eager just to turn the page on Silver, the often-inscrutable backroom dealer who controlled nearly every major piece of legislation during the past 21 years.

“It’s the ending of a dark chapter for the Assembly,” said Silver’s successor, Speaker Carl Heastie, a Bronx Democrat. “And I guess we have to get back to life.”

The 72-year-old Silver was convicted last year in a $5 million corruption case alleging he traded favors to enrich himself. He’s one of more than 30 New York lawmakers — including six legislative leaders — who have left office since 2000 facing criminal or ethical allegations.

A Siena College poll released Tuesday found that 97 percent of New Yorkers think lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo should address corruption before adjourning the 2016 legislative session in June. But two-thirds said they are pessimistic that will happen.

Meanwhile, another top lawmaker — former GOP Senate leader Dean Skelos of Long Island is set to be sentenced later this month after being convicted last year of using his position to arrange payments and a job for his son. And Cuomo’s administration is again being investigated by federal prosecutors, who this time are looking into whether one of the governor’s former top aides accepted payments from companies with business before the state.

“Someone please make it stop,” said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group, one of several organizations that have suggested reforms, including tighter campaign finance rules and restrictions on how much lawmakers can make from outside sources. “The half-measures, they’re not doing the trick.”

Cuomo has said ethics is his top priority for the session’s remainder but the Assembly and Senate remain deadlocked over significant proposals. Last year, ethics was said to be a priority as well, but only modest reforms were passed.

Several Assembly Democrats declined to discuss the sentencing of Silver, a Manhattan Democrat first elected in 1976. Some Assembly Republicans, however, took grim pleasure in Silver’s downfall.

“After years of stealing from taxpayers and living a life of crime, Sheldon Silver will finally be doing something productive for New Yorkers — stamping license plates,” said Assemblyman Dave McDonough, R-Long Island.

Tuesday saw the Legislature’s return following a three-week spring break. Four new legislators were sworn-in following last month’s special elections. They include Assemblywoman Alice Cancel, D-Manhattan, who replaces Silver, and Sen. Todd Kaminsky, D-Long Island, who succeeds Skelos.

Kaminsky, a former prosecutor, said his constituents are tired of excuses when it comes to dealing with corruption.

“People don’t care who is in power,” he said. “People want results.”

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