Conviction of ex-speaker sends New York politics into turmoil
The above headline caught my eye because I lived in Albany, NY for a while years ago. The AP news story started out by saying, “The conviction of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has shaken New York politics down to the granite foundations of the state Capitol, provoking fresh calls to overhaul a system that has stubbornly clung to its long history of corruption.” Not that the state of Nevada (or the city of Las Vegas) or any other state or major city hasn’t felt its own “share” of corruption.
It’s bad enough that people at large can’t count on being protected by laws, since laws don’t protect people any more than laws keep people from breaking them, yet to discover that those who are in a position of power in our government break the law all the time throughout their careers of ”serving the public” does not give us any sense of “honesty in politics” or “protection under the law” and makes it hard for us to put any stock in politicians per se at all.
Getting back to that NY corruption story, a jury convicted the 71-year-old Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, on Monday, May 2, 2016, on charges that he traded favors for $4 million in kickbacks from a cancer researcher and real estate developers. His downfall apparently was as shocking to lawmakers as it was troubling to longtime observers of New York politics. Unfortunately, it was not as shocking to me as it was sad.
Silver was ousted as speaker following his arrest in January and lost his legislative seat upon his conviction. He’s free on bail now, but faces many long years in prison when he is sentenced.
For twenty years, Silver was a big shot who, along with the Senate leader and the governor, negotiated budgets, cut deals and defined New York’s “brash brand of backroom politics.”
Silver’s successor as speaker, Bronx Democrat Carl Heastie, said, “Words simply aren’t enough,” (duh!) “We will continue to work to root out corruption and demand more of elected officials when it comes to ethical conduct.” (Haven’t we heard similar words before? In fact, over and over again, from one state to another, one city to another, out of the mouth of one politician or another, until nothing sounds believable because no one follows through.)
Words like “reform,” “zero tolerance,” “term limits,” “new campaign finance rules,” and “tougher ethics enforcement” are all just words that “simply aren’t enough” until those who are in a position to do
something about it take steps to make those words come alive. When will that happen, and can it ever happen while greed lives in the hearts of those we have elected to serve us?
Thirty lawmakers have left office since 2000 because of criminal charges or allegations of ethical misconduct. Just last week, Thomas Libous (R), the Senate’s former No. 2 member, was sentenced to house arrest for lying to the FBI. Ex-Senate Leader Dean Skelos, R-Long Island, is on trial for charges that he extorted bribes and jobs for
In just the past five years, one Albany lawmaker was convicted of taking bribes from a carnival promoter. A second entered into a sham marriage in order to become a citizen. A third was accused of harassing female staffers and forcing one to do a very strange thing—touch cancerous tumors on his neck and in his armpit.
While former corruption prosecutor and first-term Assemblyman, Todd Kaminsky, said, “The bell could not be ringing louder for real reform in Albany than it is right now,” many others initially stood by Silver following his arrest. “Until more elected criminals are held accountable, the New York State Assembly cannot be taken seriously,” he said. Shouldn’t that be true of every Assembly in every state?
As if stealing $4 million from cancer research wasn’t enough, a Dr. Robert Taub told jurors he steered numerous patients with asbestos-related cancer to Silver’s law firm, making it possible for that Albany legislator to collect $3 million in referral fees.
Prosecutors said Silver also was involved in legislation that favored developers that led to a small law firm secretly sending him $700,000 in fees.
It almost doesn’t matter what the many details are. A dishonest politician is a dishonest politician. Just knowing that money mattered more to this legislator than serving his constituents, than doing what he was elected to do, than building up trust in our political system, he needs to feel every bit of the disgrace that he has created for
himself. How he can face those he cheated will be enough of a challenge, but didn’t he realize that his lying and cheating would finally catch up to him, causing him to lose whatever respect he ever had for his many years of “service”?
When will one politician’s disgrace and fall from grace be enough to cause other politicians to see themselves as they might someday be seen if they keep down the path of greed and corruption?
And that’s just lately, and just in New York State.
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Maramis Choufani is the Managing Editor of the Las Vegas Tribune. She writes a weekly column in this newspaper. To contact Maramis, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.