Opinion: Albany on trial

By former Assemblyman Steven Sanders

SandersheadshotThe trial began last week. It is officially referenced as “The United States vs. Sheldon Silver.” It is really about the culture of government in many state capitols… but in this case Albany. The facts in this trial involve the conduct of the former Speaker of the Assembly who for 20 years was arguably the most powerful state elected official with the exception of the governor. The prosecution is focusing on Silver’s alleged illegal activities which resulted in his personal enrichment. It is attempting to show that Silver broke the law and the public trust by taking actions not based on good policy but rather based on enhancing his own power and fortune.

And next week the corruption trial of former State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos will begin. These two trials will shed considerable light on how laws are made and will peel back the onion layers of backroom deal making in Albany. The result will surely leave a bad taste.

But it is much more complicated than that.

I served in the State Assembly for 28 years until 2006. At the end I was privileged to be near the pinnacle of power in that body as chairman of an important committee and one of the most senior members. I also worked closely with Mr. Silver on a range of legislative issues. Whatever else may be said and alleged of Sheldon Silver, I can attest that he committed his time and intellect to the job. He devoted more hours than any other public official that I came into contact with. And at least in my experience he sought out what he thought was the right public policy on an array issues important to the lives of ordinary New Yorkers. Did he betray the public trust in some of his private back room dealings? I do not know. Is he guilty of pocketing millions of dollars because of influence peddling? A jury will have to decide that.

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No smoke on Ave. C, despite city warning

By Sabina Mollot

On Thursday, November 5, anyone signed up for the city Office of Emergency Management’s email alerts for things like scheduled fireworks, shots being fired, explosions or other things typically related to film shoots, got notice of a city exercise involving smoke at 23rd Street and Avenue C.

The “theatrical smoke,” the email explained, was to be part of an exercise to be conducted by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) between 1:30 and 2:30 p.m. However, like most city alerts, it came as the exercise was already set to be taking place.

By the time this reporter got over there, there was no sign of smoke and the staffers at the Solar One building at the FDR Drive and 23rd Street said they hadn’t seen any either.

We reached out to a spokesperson for OCME, who confirmed that the exercise did in deed happen, but the smoke was contained. The rep, Julie Bowlsor, explained that the alert was sent out in the event anyone did happen to see smoke. “That way they would know there’s no cause for alarm,” she said. She added that the exercise may have taken place in the general area of the aforementioned location rather than 23rd Street exactly.

Had the smoke actually been visible, it would have made an interesting visual for the hundreds of kids who were piling into the riverfront by Solar One at that time. The kids were students from the nearby United Nations International School, which was conducting a fire drill.

Upon hearing this, Bowlsor said, “We’re sorry it was not as theatrical as promised.”