By Sabina Mollot
Following a stunning decision last Thursday by a federal judge to overturn the conviction for corruption against former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, State Senator Brad Hoylman is predicting more of the same bad behavior in Albany.
“I am concerned that the overturning of the Silver verdict might give a green light for some public officials to engage in legal graft,” said Hoylman, who’s been pushing for ethics reforms for years. Those reforms include the closure of the so-called LLC Loophole, limiting outside income for legislators, prohibiting convicted legislators from using campaign cash on their own defense and taking away convicted legislators’ pensions.
Additionally, Hoylman said he believes the court’s decision will hurt tenants in New York City.
“The Silver case props up the status quo and the status quo if left alone will result in the end of rent stabilization as we know it,” said Hoylman.
Hoylman added, “It’s up to the legislature to provide clarification (on what constitutes corruption). It’s up to the state of New York to pass laws that prevent that from happening, but given what we’ve seen, I don’t think the current Senate leadership has any desire to address this disaster, especially since their former leader may get off using the same argument that Sheldon Silver’s attorneys did.”
Even before the Silver scandal as well as the similar scandal surrounding former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, ethics reforms proposals did exist in Albany. They briefly gained steam due to the high profile cases, but have still not been voted on. One exception is the pension stripping proposal, which Hoylman said was passed as a constitutional amendment. This means it will be decided by voters at the ballot in November.
In Hoylman’s view, the only way to get reform is through a true Democratic majority in the State Senate. He has made this argument many times before, since the Republicans that dominate the Senate are from upstate areas with far fewer renter constituents to answer to.
“If we don’t win back the Senate, the rent regulated tenant will continue to be an endangered species,” Hoylman said.
At this time, Democrats technically do have a majority at 32 out of 63 senators. However, Republicans are still able to control the legislative body through a breakaway group, the Independent Democrats Conference, as well as Brooklyn Democrat Simcha Felder, who are Republican-aligned.
In the first half of 2017, the political arm of the Real Estate Board of New York spent $93,500 to support IDC campaign committees, according to The Real Deal.
This was out of a total of $300,000 Real Estate Board PAC spent on state campaign and party committees as well as operating costs in that same time period. The article, published on Monday, went on to suggest the spending means the industry is gearing up for a number of potentially hotly contested Senate primary races, especially in New York City.
Asked about the contributions, REBNY President John Banks confirmed that the organization helps candidates who support the industry.
“REBNY has a long standing practice of supporting elected officials, regardless of their political affiliation, who support policies that promote the creation of new housing for all New Yorkers and the creation of good jobs that will generate additional tax revenue to pay for vital government services,” Banks said.
As for the decision to overturn Silver’s conviction, it came with the explanation that another similar court case a year ago (following the 2015 conviction of Silver) narrowed the definition of corruption. Had a jury been given the different, more specific instructions regarding the definition of the word, they may have come to a different conclusion, the court reasoned.
Silver, a Democrat who represented the Lower East Side for decades, may still be retried, however, and federal prosecutors have said they would do so. But even if he is retried, Hoylman said that doesn’t make the need for reform in Albany any less urgent.
“Whether it’s the real estate lobby or big corporations funneling money into housekeeping accounts for Senate Republicans, the powers that be… they’re benefiting from the status quo,” Hoylman said.