‘Something Is Broken In The System’
In announcing the three-pronged bribery scheme that appears to have felled state Sen. Malcolm Smith, two local Rockland County officials and several NYC GOP leaders, US Attorney Preet Bharara today condemned – yet again – the culture of corruption in New York politics.
Bharara called for something other than the “blunt” prosecutorial tools of his office to be brought to bear in an attempt to finally clean up the system.
The US attorney didn’t make any specific recommendations about how to purge the state of dirty pols, but he did make clear that the growing list of cases against elected officials at the state and local levels brought by his office indicate that the problem is far from solved – despite claims to the contrary by any number of self-appointed “reformers.”
“(W)hat can we expect when there continues to be – even after a parade of politicians have been hauled off to prison – a lack of transparency, a lack of self-disclosure, a lack of self policing, a lack of will, and a failure of leadership?” Bharara said. “What can we expect when transgressions seem to be tolerated and nothing seems to ever change? New Yorkers should demand more.”
“…I think that any time you have a situation where something happens again and again and again, and it happens on the part of people who should know better, and it happens on the part of people who should be able to engage in a decent and reasonable calculus about whether or not it’s worth going to jail and being separated from your liberty for a few thousand dollars, that something is broken in the system,” he continued a bit later.
“…I think there are a lot of folks in and around the state who are people of good will and decency who are in a position to do something about the structure that exists in Albany and in other places.”
Smith has been in investigators’ crosshairs for some time, and speculation has run rampant for years now that he would likely end up indicted – although it must be said that the circumstances under which he was finally charged comes as something of a surprise (at least to me).
But Bharara’s blistering attack on politics, writ large, must sting a little for any number of people – including Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who, in his previous job as state attorney general, pledged to clean up Street State, much the way his predecessor, Eliot Spitzer, had taken on Wall Street.
Cuomo did expose a massive pay-to-play state pension fund scandal that felled a number of high-profile individuals, including former state Comptroller Alan Hevesi and his long-time political advisor, Hank Morris. But he didn’t focus terribly much on the Legislature during his four years as the state’s top attorney.
Back in 2010, Cuomo chose to launch his gubernatorial campaign in front of the former Manhattan courthouse named for Boss Tweed, the corrupt political boss of Tammany Hall. At the time, he told supporters: “Unfortunately, Albany’s antics today could make Boss Tweed blush. Our message today is simple. Enough is enough.”
Since then, however, the parade of pols slapped with corruption charges has only continued, including yet another member of the Senate Democratic conference, Carl Kruger, (Cuomo called his case “unfortunate”); former Westchester Sen. Nick Spano (who pleaded guilty to federal tax evasion charges); and, of course, Brooklyn Assemblyman William Boyland Jr., whose case (his second time fighting charges) is ongoing.
(For the record, Bharara declined to say that the epicenter of corruption in Albany lies in the Senate, despite the fact that it has been home to the majority of fallen legislators, saying: “(F)rom what I understand in the papers, not every state legislator has this degree of criminality that’s been exposed.”
Part of Cuomo’s gubernatorial platform was an ethics reform pledge. The governor did accomplish that during his first year in office, scrapping the existing watchdog commissions in Albany and replacing them with JCOPE, which has had a troubled tenure almost since its inception.
UPDATE: Here’s a copy of Bharara’s formal remarks from this morning’s press conference, as prepared for delivery:
|Print article||This entry was posted by Liz Benjamin on April 2, 2013 at 1:36 pm, and is filed under Albany, Andrew Cuomo, Ethics, Reform. Follow any responses to this post through RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.|