By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders
Once again the light is shining brightly on the Albany scene… and not in a good way. The last chapter of the saga of convicted Dean Skelos (former Senate Majority Leader) and convicted Shelly Silver (former Assembly Speaker) is about to be written as they are soon to be sentenced for their crimes and misdeeds as leaders of the State Legislature. In the meantime more unsavory information has come to light about the former speaker’s personal life and ways in which those relationships compromised the public trust. Undoubtedly both men will be sentenced to prison and maybe for a considerable length of time. The specter of these two legislative leaders being led off to incarceration is a profoundly sad day for New York State government.
For me personally it is enormously painful to watch. For the public it is more than a little disillusioning.
I served with both Dean and Shelly and consider them both to be friends. Shelly and I shared a close political relationship for all the 28 years that I served in the Assembly until 2006. My sense of unreality at what was going on just beyond the sight of their colleagues and just beneath the surface has shocked me. If I were still in the Assembly, would I have known? And If I had known what would I have said or done?
I am saddened and angry. Saddened that the respect for our state government has been brought to this low ebb, and angry that these two talented individuals allowed themselves to be seduced by power and greed. At one time both Silver and Skelos were considered amongst the best and the brightest. Now their lives in shambles and careers destroyed, they have been reduced to felons unworthy of any public sympathy. And yet I cannot help but feel badly for my good friend Shelly Silver who at one time did so much to help so many in need of government’s protection and assistance.
So what is left to be said? If the many dedicated legislators do not treat these events as a seminal learning moment, and then act upon it, they will then have earned the enmity of the public and the scorn sure to follow. My former colleagues in the legislature and my successors need to understand that winning elections and perpetuating themselves in office is not the essence of good government. And certainly behaving as though principles, and integrity are only incidental to their public service cannot be tolerated.
The institution of the New York State Legislature, which they claim to cherish, will only regain the public confidence if they now undertake reforms to ensure that good behavior is not an honor system but rather rigorously enforced with penalties that will deter such corrupt impulses.
Those who aspire to public service must perform their responsibilities with integrity or forfeit the great honor of representing their constituents and all the benefits that go with it.
Elected public office is unlike any other profession, and those who attain those trusted positions must be held to the highest standards.
No more excuses, please. No more rationalizing the bad behavior of fellow colleagues. Let 2016 be the year that the parade of legislators being carted off to jail for abusing their power and influence for their own personal gain or gratification ends.
This must happen not only by their own right behavior but also by tough unforgiving laws that will root out if not prevent such criminality.Otherwise the damage to our democracy may become irreparable and then we will all surely reap the whirlwind of political chaos.