The road to reform in Albany

By former Assemblyman Steven Sanders

The King is dead. Long live the King!

By now you have heard, ad nauseum, about the indictments and resignation of Sheldon Silver as speaker of the New York State Assembly. Assemblyman Carl Heastie from the Bronx has been elected as speaker.

The stunning downfall of Mr. Silver is very sad on many levels. On a personal note he has been a friend and an ally. I believe that as the leader of the Assembly for 21 years he accomplished much. Notwithstanding the charges of personal corruption alleged against him which a court must ultimately decide, I believe that from a public policy standpoint, Silver leaves his post and the state better off than he found it. But if his arrest and fall from grace is the ultimate result and legacy of this year’s legislative session in Albany that will be sadder still. Reform is needed and badly. And if not now, when?

The public needs to have confidence in its elected officials and its government institutions. Plainly said, today they do not.

The road to reform does not begin and end with the State Assembly; it must go through the State Senate as well as the governor’s office. Reform does not mean replacing one leader for another; it means systemic and enduring changes that will hold public officials to a higher standard of conduct. And it will mean that current office holders, including the governor, will have to sacrifice some of their current and cherished prerogatives.

Here are ten ideas. I am sure there are others:

  • Outside personal income must be limited to less than the public salary paid to legislators. And its sources and amounts must be clearly documented.
  • Periodic pay increases should be decided by a commission independently appointed, and not decided by legislators themselves.
  • Legislative district boundaries that are drawn every ten years should similarly be done by an independent commission, and not by the legislators themselves.
  • Maximum campaign contributions for statewide offices should be cut in half with even further limitations on corporate contributions. It is obscene to amass a $45M war chest such as Governor Cuomo did last year largely through mega contributions from wealthy people and corporations who do business with the government.
  • Campaign contributions should not be spent on anything other than items directly related to that political campaign. It should certainly not be spent on personal items or legal expenses having nothing to do with the political campaign.
  • Albany fundraisers should be prohibited while the state legislature is in session. How unseemly is it to vote on a bill during the day and raise money from people doing business with the legislature in the evening?
  • As with the president of the United States, there should be a two term limitation (eight years) on the governor and other statewide elected officials.
  • The powerful leaders of the Assembly and Senate, namely the speaker and the Senate majority leader should also be be limited to eight years in that leadership position.
  • Any elected public official who is convicted of a felony should forfeit their pension. Holding office is a public trust which if violated should result in extraordinary punishment.

Assembly and Senate staff allocations and office expenses should be made standard so that favored politicians are not given favored status and “perks.”

To be sure, when I was a member of the New York State Assembly, I supported some of these reforms, but not all of them. What has changed my mind is witnessing the seemingly endless parade of state officials who have been convicted of serious crimes, removed from office, and even jailed. Most of their offenses dealt with abusing their positions to enrich themselves or using their political power inappropriately. The opportunity for both must be curtailed.

The Sheldon Silver controversy is not over with the political demise of one person, but rather it must be the impetus to do important reforms that were needed for years before Silver became speaker.

The road to reform in the legislature will only reach its destination with the acknowledgment by both houses of the legislature and the governor that they must all change their ways of doing political and governmental business first and foremost for the good of the people and for the restoration of a respected democracy.

Steven Sanders served in the State Assembly from 1978-2006. He currently is the executive director of an association of agencies that provide early childhood services to learning challenged or developmentally disabled youngsters.

13 thoughts on “The road to reform in Albany

  1. I understand Steve is also a lobbyist for many of the companies doing the exact things he is complaining about. He is also a friend and supporter of Dan Garodnick the King of corruption in NYC politics. A person is defined by the company they keep. I say to Steve, “physician heal thyself”

  2. “Dan Garodnick the King of corruption in NYC politics?” Really? Details before mud-slinging in a public forum, please.

  3. Sorry princess, do your own heavy lifting. You can start with the scam he and the TA are running. Or any of the 100 story towers (rife with money launderers) in his district or you can check where his earnings come from.

    • Scam? Some details please. I’ll do some “heavy lifting” once your learned mind shares these facts you’re so obviously privy to. Please, enlighten us all or are you only able to slap others from behind the safety of your keyboard, absent any real information?

      • Please your so oblivious your not even aware that the logo identifies you as the same person as the Dutchess, Changing your name to make it look like someone else didn’t work. Keep making the kool aid for your sheeple to drink as you are clearly a member of the TA board or Dan Garodnick’s staff (all one and the same). Go back to your puppetmaster, worker bee and let them tell you what to think.

    • King of corruption?

      Exactly what alleged “scam” are you referring to? You’ve made a serious allegation. It’s your responsibility, not someone else’s, to be specific and to give details.

      100 story towers in his district? I can only assume you’re talking about the recent series in the NY Times about foreign money being laundered by purchasing residential real estate in NYC and elsewhere int the US. The article mainly pointed fingers at the US Congress for the lax legislation that allows it, but it was former Mayor Michael Bloomberg who welcomed the super-rich overseas money-launderers with open arms and it’s state law written in the 1970s that provides the tax break that allows those luxury towers to get built. Pointing fingers at one city councilman for them is idiotic.

      So you know, like all real estate and rent laws (including rent stabilization), the tax breaks I referred to (known as 421-a) are up for renewal in Albany this June and tenants groups have organized a series of actions against their renewal between now and then. A repeal of 421-a might well pass the Assembly, but the Real Estate Board of New York is using money and influence to see that it dies in the Republican controlled State Senate. The mayor hasn’t come out for or against renewal yet.

      • Yet it was Silver a Dem who was arrested and the entire City Council (almost exclusively Dems) who are owned by REBNY. Those republicans from upstate must have some influence since they have caused all these Dems to be corrupt. As for Garodnick, well he is so far up the REBNY’s ass that he left a permanent impression of his face between it’s members cheeks. Whenever they crap it comes out his mouth!!

  4. Really, Slash?

    The NYC Campaign Finance Board released the 2013 Independent Spender Profile of Jobs for New York, Inc., the PAC that REBNY funnels its campaign contributions through. In the 2013 election cycle, REBNY funneled $ 4,901,830 to the NY City Council. The list of recipients is here:

    http://www.nyccfb.info/VSApps/IndependentSpenderSummary.aspx?spender_id=Z18&as_election_cycle=2013&cand_name=Jobs%20for%20New%20York,%20Inc.

    You’ll see that Dan Garodnick’s name is not on the list.

    • You’re making my point for me. No one ever said Garodnick got his bribes “the legal way”. He gets his bribes under the table like Shelly Silver which is what makes him the King of Corruption. Thanks for doing the legwork since anyone with even your pea sized brain would know that the only reason Dan isn’t on that list is that his bribes were too sizeable to mention. You know there are legal limits and Dan can’t have that.

  5. Edamame,
    You almost got it right. You just go it backwards. Yet I guess that’s as close as anyone can expect you’ll get! How is Dan as a boss? Does he approve all your posts or does he give you the freedom to show how huge of an asshole you are all on your own?

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