By Sabina Mollot
Just eight days after the arrest of one of Albany’s famed three men in a room, came the news that another one in the power trio, Republican Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, was also being investigated. U.S. Attorney Preet Bhahara, whose investigation into Sheldon Silver led to his stepping down as Assembly speaker on Monday, is looking into Skelos’ ties to real estate and outside income from a law firm, the New York Post reported.
Skelos, of Long Island, has since reportedly laughed off the allegations.
Meanwhile, at the ribbon cutting for the new Asser Levy Playground in Manhattan on Friday morning, Town & Village cornered a couple of local state senators as well as a few community leaders to ask for their thoughts on the latest scandals from the Capitol.
Senate Senators Liz Krueger and Brad Hoylman both told Town & Village that it’s a shameful day in Albany any time there’s news of alleged criminal activity.
“Everyone who’s in elected office knows that they’re supposed to be held to a higher standard,” said Krueger. “The vast majority of us believe in good government, and when this happens, people think, ‘A pox on all your heads.’ Who’s going to want to run for office if everybody thinks you’re a criminal?”
When asked if she was just relieved it was a Republican on the hot seat this time, the Democrat senator insisted she wasn’t.
“No. I think any time there’s an elected official in Albany that gets indicted, the general public believes ‘they’re all corrupt and there’s no point in government.’”
Hoylman agreed, but also said the resigning of Silver as he battles the charges against him is likely to have the positive effect of reform in Albany.
This, he added, could work to tenants’ advantage when the laws are up for renewal in June. Hoylman said he believes the laws will be strengthened, but he felt that way even before the race for a new speaker began.
“I was optimistic about this legislative season, anyway,” he said.
When reminded of the Republican-dominated State Senate’s history of shooting down tenant-friendly legislation, Hoylman was quick to pin the blame on Housing Committee Chair Cathy Young and other upstate politicians who have few renters in their districts.
“The chair of the housing committee lives closer to Cleveland than Manhattan,” said Hoylman. “We don’t even know if she knows what multi-family means because she doesn’t have any in her district.”
Krueger noted how “we all have a list” of tenant issues to bring up in June including major capital improvements (MCIs), individual apartment improvements (IAIs) and vacancy decontrol. Hoylman then referred to the leverage tenants have, the tax breaks landlords are hoping to get renewed such as the 421-a and J-51 programs. “These are the bargaining chips,” said Hoylman.
Krueger added that she suspects the change in Assembly leadership (Carl Heastie has been named the new speaker) would lead to some delays in Albany, possibly on this year’s budget.
“There are always delays,” she said, “and some startup changes.”
Missing in action at the event was Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, who also hasn’t been reachable for comment on the state of the Assembly since Silver’s arrest.
But a few tenants shared their thoughts on the subject of the cesspool in Albany.
Susan Steinberg, chair of the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association, said she had a recommendation.
“They should disband the whole legislature and start afresh,” she said, adding, “It’s a shame for tenants.”
Steinberg explained, “We had a champion of sorts (with Silver) and we don’t know what the future is going to hold.”
Upon overhearing this, Anne Greenberg, a Tenants Association board member, chimed in, “Maybe he wasn’t such a champion. Landlords have expressed surprise that he didn’t do more for tenants.”
On Silver’s stepping down, Janet Handal, president of the Waterside Tenants Association, said, “Change is a good thing after so many years, and I would say the same thing about Skelos. I think it gives the opportunity for new ideas.”
Jeff Ourvan, the president of the Peter Stuyvesant Little League who’s also an attorney, had more of a wait-and-see attitude with regards to Silver.
“If it’s corruption, he should be made accountable,” said Ourvan. “If he didn’t, then he shouldn’t be. It’s kind of amazing, to hold such influence, but we’re all equal. If he isn’t guilty, it’s a terrible burden on him.”
He declined to discuss Skelos, saying he wasn’t familiar enough with his situation.