Monday, December 14, 2015

Albany After the Silver and Skelos Convictions No Outcry for Reforms 6777

Shameless Albany Pols Will Allow Silver and Skelos to Keep Their Pensions
They Could Be Saved From This Embarrassment by Bharara Moving in Court to Take Silver and Skelos Pensions Away
New York pols shameless in the face of corruption convictions (NYP Ed) Juries found both Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos guilty of corrupt abuse of their high offices — yet together they’ll still draw public pensions of nearly $200,000 a year for the rest of their lives. That’s the reality after Skelos, the former state Senate majority leader, filed his pension papers Tuesday. With 45 years in various public-sector jobs, he’s eligible for $95,000 in benefits.  The felons’ pensions are protected even after official misconduct. A 2011 reform allows for ending the benefit for officials who started after that year. Anything stronger requires a constitutional change — passage of an amendment in consecutive legislative sessions and by public referendum. But the Assembly this year declined to pass the necessary bill, so most felonious pols’ taxpayer-paid pensions are still safe.* Timeline of the good, the bad and the ugly at the Capitol in2015: (TN) * Denying pensions to public officials convicted of corruption gets vocal support from many state legislators, but there are at least 10 active bills with multiple sponsors languishing in committees, some for more than a decade, Newsday writes:  * Convicted lawmakers Dean Skelos and Sheldon Silver getting state pensions is a disgrace, so legislators should be able to craft an intelligent law to address unions’ concerns while allowing courts some discretion, the Times Union writes: * 

NYP Pols Have No Interest In Rooting Out Corruption Fueled By Dirty Money
If 421-a Was So Good for the City Why Did Glenwood Spend 10 Million Bribing Pols?

New York lawmakers have no interest in rooting out corruption (NYP) Why should anyone expect the Legislature to root out corruption when its own official watchdogs refuse to give up their tainted campaign cash? Current and former members of the Senate and Assembly Ethics Committees have taken more than $227,000 from scandal-scarred Glenwood Management since 2012. The firm has lined the campaign pockets of pretty much every Albany power broker to the tune of $10 million over the past decade. But Cuomo refuses to give back a penny of his Glenwood money. Same for Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, state Comp­troller Tom DiNapoli and city Comp­troller Scott Stringer, and campaign committees run by Republican and Democratic legislators. Yet it’s particularly disgusting that Ethics Committee members decline to send the funds back. Those contacted by The Post either didn’t respond, didn’t want to talk about it or vaguely promised to “look into it.”* Expect the spate of high-profile corruption convictions to shape Albany’s agenda in the new year — whether they want it to or not.

Albany Lawmaker Still Fighting to Keep Their Golden Goose Corruption Alive?
ALAN CHARTOCK: Toclean up Albany, empower voters, limit terms (DailyFreeman) With the two super trials (Silver and Skelos) now over, at least for a while, there comes the question about how to clean things up in the sewer known as Albany. It is absolutely possible. It would serve all citizens of the state well and it would be a beacon to reform but in my opinion, the men and women who sit in the Legislature have absolutely no interest in killing the golden goose that has served them so well for so long. In fact, instead of moving toward true and lasting reform, they have done more of the same old same old. In the case of former Speaker Shelly Silver, now convicted (at least for now) of seven felonious counts, they elected Carl Heastie, the Bronx political boss, as the new speaker. This was hardly a vote for a new beginning. In the case of the former Senate Majority Leader, Dean Skelos, his colleagues replaced him with a political look alike, also from Long Island. In other words, it would appear that nothing is changing. For his part, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara has been courageous and seems intent on making systematic changes in the way things are being done. He can’t do it alone, although he should and will continue to indict and convict until his term runs out.

GOP Senate Leader Don't Expect Any Changes In Ethics Reforms
New York Senate GOP leaders don’t anticipate major ethics reforms after Dean Skelos, Sheldon Silver convictions (NYDN) Senate Deputy GOP Majority Leader John DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse) says the spate of lawmaker convictions in recent years culminating with former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos being found guilty on eight felony corruption counts Friday shows there are already laws on the books to deal with unethical and illegal behavior. "Each of the people who are on that hall of shame ... is somebody who was guilty of existing law," DeFrancisco told his hometown paper, the Syracuse Post Standard. "Whether it's failing to report certain things on expense reports, bribery, using their office for their own personal benefit — that's all existing law." As the trial played out, Flanagan also downplayed the need for additional ethics reforms. And he and DeFrancisco have pooh-poohed the idea of restricting outside work for lawmakers. Cuomo blamed the Legislature for ignoring his calls for more aggressive changes and said he will pursue a fourth ethics package since he took office in 2011 as part of his coming legislative agenda.* Ex-NY Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos spoiled son Adam on road to corruption (NYDN) Adam Skelos, convicted on corruption charges along with his father, has a telling tattoo.

No Outrage By the Media or Public No Rush to Reform By Albany Lawmakers
"People gotta talk themselves into law and order before they do anything about it. Maybe because down deep they don't care. They just don't care." High Noon
Lawmakers are in no rush for reform (niagara-gazette) As the end of 2015 approaches, state lawmakers collectively should be embarrassed by their failure to show more than lip service to serious reform, especially in the area of ethics. Even at a cursory glance, it seems there is enough blame for the situation that both the Governor’s Office and the two chambers of the Legislature should be calling for significant changes. One thing is certain, 2015 will be remembered as one of the most shameful chapters in the state’s political history. Taxpayers, voters and residents across the state should be outraged that the recent Legislature adjourned this year without addressing one of the most crucible challenges in decades — ethics reform.
Bharara the Charging Bull
According to people inside and outside government, the successful conviction of two legislative leaders will only further empower U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara in his self-stated cause to clean up Albany,the Buffalo News reports:  * Michael Goodwin in the Post writes that the successfulconviction of Silver and Skelos might be the end of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s campaign, or it could be a warm-up to the final act – arresting the governor: * Governor Cuomo Hails Conviction of Skelos

Full Time Legislature Will Do Nothing to Clean Up Albany
From my point of view, there are lots of things that should be done to fix the system. Here are some ideas about how to limit corruption in Albany, remembering of course, that inventive minds will always find ways to be corrupt. People will always try to get their wives and children jobs. People will always have “friends” who they put legislation in for on the basis of some “understanding” about getting paid back. Naturally, we keep hearing that the way to “fix” Albany is to make it worse by paying legislators even more money or making their jobs “full time.” That really does nothing to make things right. In fact, it might actually make things worse. * State lawmakers need to seize the moment and enact real change to clean up Albany by banning outside income and creating a system of public financing of campaigns with a limited campaign season so that lawmakers aren’t constantly chasing money, the Times Union writes: *Cuomo today said he would make closing the LLC loophole a priority this session. Part of a larger reform agenda in State of State *  You can't say NY politics are boring: Top 10 major, orbizarre, misdeeds by state officials 

The Corruption Culture Defense: Skelos Just Doing What is Normal in Albany
Dear Albany Lawmakers: If You See Corruption Call U.S. Attorney Bharara at (212) 637-2200
The Silver-Skelos‘defense’: Corruption is the way of Albany(NYP Ed) Dean (left) and Adam Skelos.Photo: Stefan Jeremiah How do you defend the indefensible? If you’re former state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, you do the same as your Assembly counterpart, Sheldon Silver: You don’t. Like Silver, Skelos opted not to testify on his own behalf — likely realizing the jury wouldn’t believe a word. No, this was the gist of the closing argument from Skelos’ lawyer Wednesday: What the prosecution calls bribery, extortion and conspiracy was just business as usual — in a system everybody recognizes as corrupt. It plainly is the way of Albany — but the public’s general awareness of corruption doesn’t make it legal. Prosecutors nailed down example after example of Dean using his power to shake down companies to fill Adam’s pockets — $20,000 for a fake title-referral fee; $78,000 for a no-show job with Physicians Reciprocal Insurers, a $10K-a-month raise at another job with environmental company Abtech. Abtech’s CEO cried he felt “held hostage” by the Skeloses. Oh, the defense also played the Concerned Dad card — arguing, basically, that Dean steered work Adam’s way because that was the only way the no-account son could get by. Probably true — but, as prosecutor Rahul Mukhi said, “You cannot commit a crime and then just say, ‘I’m not guilty because I did it to help my son.’ ”Indeed, tons of New York corruption involves elected officials using their positions to enrich family and friends

As Albany Dictators Fall, New Yorkers Have the Opportunity to Fight for Govt "Of, By and For the People"
Behind Sheldon Silver’s dramatic fall from grace (NYP) Sheldon Silver’s absolute power in the 21 years he ruled the Assembly first showed signs of cracking in 2007, when The Post raised questions about his ties to the law firm Weitz & Luxenberg. Silver was first elected to the Assembly from the 65th District in 1976, and was named Assembly speaker in February 1994, following the death of Saul Wep­rin. He was re-elected speaker 11 times, wielding enormous power as one of the infamous “three men in a room,” along with the governor and state Senate majority leader, who determined the state’s budget and legislative direction.* Michael Goodwin wants US Attorney Preet Bharara to run for NYC mayor or governor – “it really doesn’t matter which; all that matters is that an honest champion of honest government set the agenda.”

Journalism Disconnect Played A Large Role In Enabling Silver's Corrupted Albany to Go On and On
 What Silver’s guilty verdict means for the State Assembly (NYP) It took only moments after that for his state government site to be scrubbed of any mention of his nearly 40 years in office, including 21 as speaker. Assembly staffers also wasted no time taking down his nameplate from his office in the Legislative Office Building as Silver’s aides huddled behind closed doors. The fate of Silver’s staffers, meanwhile, was not immediately clear, although as state employees, they are not necessarily out the door with their former boss. Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx), who replaced Silver after his January arrest, can decide which staffers stay and which are let go. Silver’s former top spokesman, Michael Whyland, who was a witness in the federal case against his now ex-boss, was nowhere to be found.Former New York State Assemblyman Sheldon Silver found GUILTY on all counts in corruption case; faces 130 years in jail * Sheldon Silver is but one entry on a long list of big-nameconvictions won by Preet Bharara:(NY Mag) * The NY Post: “US Attorney Preet Bharara and his team deserve hearty congratulations for their unceasing effort to get to the bottom of Albany’s influence-peddling. Indeed, in finding him guilty — on all counts — of selling his political office for $4 million in secret deals, the jury sent a clear message: Corruption may be business as usual in Albany, but it’s also a crime.” * The guilty verdict against Silver “still casts a shadow that hangs over Albany,” Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell said in a statement. “We need to change the way things work in Albany,” the Manhattan Democrat insisted. * Silver Conviction A Momentous Victory for Prosecutor Preet Bharara (NY1)* Cuomo: The Moreland Commission ‘Did Its Job’

Congratulations to Sheldon Silver for Being Unanimously Voted on to Albany's Wall of Shame
With Sheldon Silver's verdict, 29 lawmakers guilty in 12years (syracuse) * The Journal writes that Silver’s conviction highlights how state governments have too much unchecked power, and notes that the solution is to reduce government power and increase political compeition, not to reform campaign financing: The Post calls Silver’s conviction a big win for New Yorkbecause it demonstrates even powerful politicians can be held accountable for their corrupt doings, but writes that there is still more work to do:  The DAs Want A Raise? Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence Marks outlined a plan to increase state Supreme Court judges’ salary to $203,100, which is what their federal counterparts earn, and give raises to appellate and appeals judges, the Daily News reports The charges carry a maximum of 130 years behind bars, though Silver is expected to face significantly less. He remains released on bond. “I’m disappointed right now,” Silver said. His attorney Steven Molo vowed a “vigorous” appeal.* Casey Seiler: “For the first time since 1977, the state Assembly will convene a legislative session without Sheldon Silver. Instead, the slow-walking, low-talking owl who endured for two decades as one of Albany’s all-powerful “Three Men in a Room” could be headed for a very different kind of room.” * Bob Fredericks: “(B)efore his fall from grace, the Lower East Side native, who never moved out of the old neighborhood, consistently frustrated governors, Big Apple mayors and reform-minded good- government groups with his power plays and mercurial ways.”* The Aftermath Of Silver’s Conviction (YNN) Gannett Albany has updated its database of troubledlawmakers, which now includes 40 state lawmakers who have run into trouble, ethically, legally or both, over the years: 
Speaker Heastie, Albany Campaign and Financial Reform 

Who’s Next to Fall? And Who After That?

Why Silver’s guilty verdict should make Cuomo very worried (NYP Ed) So in the end, the longest-tenured of Albany’s three men in a room turned out to be just another thief.  Not a petty thief, not by any means; Sheldon Silverof the Lower East Side had stuffed his jeans with at least $4 million — and that makes him distinctive by Albany standards: The capital city’s gutter-grubbers traditionally settle for chump change. That is, jury deliberations in the Skelos case aren’t likely to last longer than the minute and 45 seconds that it took to convict Silver. And then there will be one man left standing — Gov. Cuomo, who has been squarely in Bharara’s sights for months now; not-guilty verdicts in Silver’s case would have let the steam out of whatever it is that the prosecutor is planning for Cuomo, and that didn’t happen. Alas, that may be the case. Certainly, the successors to Silver and Skelos — Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan — have been distressingly accommodating to a return to the legislative “member-item” pork that has been at the core of most of the lower-level corruption cases Bharara has prosecuted to date. overnments based on civic virtue have scarcely ever existed — because they simply don’t work. (Sorry about that, League of Women Voters.) * Former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s conviction on corruption charges is especially meaningful for U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, as it shakes up Albany and could lead to more investigations, The Wall Street Journal reports:  * With jurors rejecting the argument that Silver was just following the political culture of Albany, some good government groups hope his conviction will lead to action such as targeting the so-called L.L.C. loophole,the Times reports:  * With Albanyback in the national spotlight as an ethical brownfield, the onus is back on @NYGovCuomo: * Sheldon Silver’s conviction draws (more) calls for reform (LoHud) * A few hours after Silver’s conviction, Gov. Andrew Cuomo hinted at a push for bolstering the state’s ethics laws.* Said Heastie in a post-verdict statement: “I am deeply saddened by the events that have taken place this year, culminating with today’s conviction of former Speaker Sheldon Silver. Words simply aren’t enough. We will continue to work to root out corruption and demand more of elected officials when it comes to ethical conduct.”* Newsday: “The political system in Albany is guilty. Politicians wield power for their benefit at the expense of the people. Silver’s conviction highlights the perversity of the system, but it doesn’t answer the real question. What will it take to change it?” * Bob McManus thinks Cuomo should be very worried in the wake of the Silver conviction and Skelos’ potential conviction. * In the past 12 years, at least 29 state legislators and other state officials have been convicted of felonies, misdemeanors or violations. Eight former members of the state Assembly and eight former members of the state Senate have been sentenced to prison for crimes since 2003. So has a former state comptroller.* Includes full transcript of Governor's Q & A today.Cuomo: 'No appetite' for full-time Legislature

NYT Is Delusional If They Think There Are Reformers In Albany, The Daily News and Post Is Right Just Silver Enablers and Future Criminals Occupy NY Govt
Reformers in Albany May be Spurred by Silver Verdict (NYT)  Government-watchdog groups expressed optimism that the conviction of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver would lead to action, perhaps against the loophole that allows direct corporate contributions to political campaigns.* Sheldon Silver’s Albany, Guilty on All Counts (NYT Ed) Lawmakers must take the assemblyman’s conviction as a command to change the culture of corruption in Albany. If they don’t, voters should take heed.* The New York Times says the Silver verdict and ongoing trial of former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos “should sound a loud alarm to all the players in Albany who have become so accustomed to the abuse of power that they can’t see how it infects every aspect of lawmaking,” adding: “If the lawmakers still don’t get the message, voters should take heed. It is well past time to throw out anyone who doesn’t fight for a complete change of that toxic culture.”

As Jails Fill Up With Albany leaders and No Real Reforms Bharara Says Stay Tuned
Will Preet Bharara collect more scalps in corrupt Albany? (NYP) In exposing crimes by both leaders, Bharara shone a spotlight on Albany’s fetid ways. His message: Just because it’s always been this way doesn’t mean it has to continue.
But will anything change? These aren’t the first leaders to face prison.
On the Senate side alone, Skelos joins a roll call of convicts that includes:
  • Ex-Majority Leader Pedro Espada (I-Bronx) — for plundering his nonprofit.
  •  Ex-Majority Leader Malcolm Smith (D-Queens) — for trying to rig an election.
  •  Ex-Democratic Leader John Sampson (D-Brooklyn) — for obstruction of justice.
  •  Ex-Deputy Majority Leader Tom Libous (R-Binghamton) — like Skelos, for using his office to enrich his son
  • Add an asterisk for former Majority Leader Joe Bruno (R-Rensselaer) who was convicted on corruption charges until the statute under which he was prosecuted was declared unconstitutional – and he was later acquitted. And that’s just people in leadership jobs. Listing rank-and-file members from both chambers could fill this page. So far, it hasn’t stopped the filching. Will the simultaneous convictions of two legislative leaders do the trick? Maybe not: After all, Skelos, like Silver, still gets to collect a fat pension at the taxpayers’ expense, up to $95,000 a year. Despite promises to the contrary, Silver’s successor as speaker somehow hasn’t managed to get the ball rolling on changing the law that protects the benefits of felonious New York politicians. That’s one thing that has to change; we’ll have more thoughts in coming days. Meanwhile, Preet Bharara is still on the job — and dropping regular warnings that the public should “stay tuned.” * The stink of Skelos& Silver as both get their just rewards (NYDN Ed) Look for the Legislature to claim Silver and Skelos were just bad apples, with Skelos’ downfall a tragic tale of a dad who loved too much. It will also be said no possible law can deter the criminally minded. Such are akin to droppings that preceded the pooper-scooper law. And Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and GOP Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan smell of them. * The successful convictions of two legislative leaders in Albany is a big deal, even to those who have become almost numb from the state’s line of convicted lawmakers and are a major repudiation to the business as usual politics in Albany, the Daily News’ writes * Instead of promoting the public financing of campaigns to end corruption, the solution is checks and balances, which should include the ability of citizens to spend as much money as they want to unseat politicians - corrupt or not, the Journal writes: * "Albanyis out of second chances" (AP)* Dean Skelos’s conviction brings long political career toignominious end (WSJ)

Duck and Cover
Albany's Response to the Unethical Practices Uncovered In the Silver Trial 
Full Time Legislature Debate  Flanagan Remains Opposed To Full-Time Legislature (YNN)* Cuomo said he will push for more “disclosure, transparency” in the coming legislative session, but won’t focus his efforts on creating a full-time Legislature because there’s “no appetite” for it among current lawmakers.* “I don’t care how strong the law is; if a person is going to break the law, the person is going to break the law,” said Cuomo, who also shot down reformers’ calls for a special session to focus on ethics.* The Buffalo News: “Albany must confront the issues that have made this state one of the most corrupt in the nation. The goal has to be to discourage corruption in the first place, in part by making it easier to detect and to prosecute. It begins with money.” * Following Silver’s conviction for improperly splitting law firm referral fees, experts say many law firms will be forced to tighten up their internal structures and rethink their relationships with active Albany legislators. *Cuomo Tempers Hopes for Tougher Ethics Laws (NYT) Despite the conviction of Sheldon Silver, some good-government groups worry that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo will not be moved to insist on stronger ethics reform laws. * Cuomo, Calling In To Sharpton, Touts Special Prosecutor Action (YNN) * 'N.Y.'s WATERGATE MOMENT': Sheldon Silver's conviction on corruption charges puts heat on Cuomo to toughen ethics laws (NYDN) * Former Assemblyman Richard Brodsky outlines in the Daily News what changes need to be made to address both legal and illegal corruption in Albany and argues that the push to ban outside income for legislators’ willonly fail: 
Goo Goos Only Good At Getting In the Papers Not At Organizing People Against Albany
The Citizens Union’s Dick Dadey writes in the Daily News the state Legislature and Cuomo must do what any professional organization should when faced with a crisis of confidence: take responsibility, take control of their actions and make real, meaningful change: * Now that Silver has been convicted, Albany can undo years of corruption by passing meaningful legal reforms that show the Legislature works for the people, not the trial lawyers, the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York’s ThomasStebbins writes in Gotham Gazette: 

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