Opinion: Crime and punishment

By former Assemblyman Steven Sanders

In the past two weeks the former speaker of the New York State Assembly was sentenced to prison for 12 years for corruption and misuse of his government position. And the former Senate Majority Leader was handed a five-year sentence for similar crimes. These two convictions, and lengthy prison terms in a federal penitentiary follows a decade of state and city public officials having been found guilty of various felonies mostly having to do with self-enrichment at the public’s expense.

These cases have further soured the public on government and politics. They have ushered in a generation of cynicism about the honest administration of our government institutions.

The first responsibility of our current office holders in Albany and City Hall is to stanch the damage and restore public trust. This will not be easy, but it is necessary. Without the confidence of the electorate, democracy is badly undermined. Without trust in the basic honesty of elected officials the implied compact between voters and those they elect disintegrates and a representative form of government ceases to exist.

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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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ESU detective aims to educate New York on what state Constitution actually means

Detective James Coll of Emergency Service Unit #1 and ChangeNYS (Photo by Marc DeGeorge)

Detective James Coll of Emergency Service Unit #1 and ChangeNYS (Photo by Marc DeGeorge)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

All members of the NYPD are required to swear an oath to the New York State Constitution when they begin their service, but Detective James Coll said that it wasn’t until after he swore his oath that he actually took the time to read it. Since he felt like he wasn’t the only one who was unfamiliar with the document, he started a non-partisan and non-profit organization called ChangeNYS that aims to educate New Yorkers about the contents of the state’s constitution.

Coll, who is one of the detectives that was honored with the Cop of the Year award in 2009 for rescuing passengers from the US Airways flight that landed in the Hudson River, has been a member of the NYPD since 1997 and since 2002 has been a member of the Emergency Squad Unit 1, which is directly adjacent to the 13th Precinct on East 21st Street.

Coll has been an adjunct professor of American history at Nassau Community College since 2001 but he said that he started thinking about the state’s constitution when he decided to go to graduate school shortly after joining the NYPD. He started ChangeNYS about two years ago as an educational program and to offer a forum for discussion to anyone who wanted to learn about the government.

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Skelos arrest could help in rent regs fight: TenantsPAC

Dean Skelos

State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos

By Sabina Mollot

For tenants, who’d been facing an uphill battle in Albany with the June expiration of the rent laws, the second arrest of a major Albany power player this year — Republican Majority Leader Dean Skelos — and strong statements made by Mayor Bill de Blasio this week in favor of strengthening the rent laws, may prove to be helpful when negotiations begin. While exactly how much it may help is still anyone’s guess, Mike McKee, treasurer of TenantsPAC, expressed optimism at both turns of events.

On Monday, after Skelos and his son Adam were arrested on federal charges of bribery and extortion, McKee said, “I think Skelos’ arrest helps us somewhat. It’s not a game changer. It helps that the Senate leadership is in a state of disarray.”

Skelos has insisted he is innocent and plans to fight the charges. But, said McKee, it also helps to have the support of the mayor.

On Tuesday, de Blasio announced in detailed statements that he wanted to end vacancy decontrol, end vacancy bonuses and make major capital improvement (MCI) and individual apartment improvement (IAI) rent increases temporary.

Specifically, he suggested that costs related to increased services or improvements to individual apartments be spread over 10 years, while building-wide or system improvements could be spread over seven years. Long-term rent would be unaffected, and would reset after the improvements have been paid.

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Senate Democrats push ethics reforms

State Senator Brad Hoylman (at podium) discusses his legislation in Albany.

State Senator Brad Hoylman (at podium) discusses his legislation in Albany.

By Sabina Mollot

Amidst growing interest from the media about state lawmakers’ outside incomes and last week’s quick replacement of the longtime leader of the Assembly, Senate Democrats have introduced a package of legislative reforms aimed at cleaning up the Capitol.

Mainly, the new bills, which were introduced on Monday afternoon at an Albany press conference, are aimed at capping politicians’ outside incomes, making it illegal for officials to use campaign cash for any criminal defense fees they incur and stripping corrupt officials of their pensions.

So far, the Democrats have said the Republican majority has blocked its efforts for ethics reform.

However, with the spotlight being firmly planted on state legislators’ outside activities and U.S. Attorney Preet Bhahara’s warning the public to “stay tuned,” some Democrats, like Brad Hoylman, are hopeful this might change.

“This is a great Watergate moment for the state legislature,” said Hoylman, “and by that I mean that public confidence is at an all-time low. And it is up to both parties to usher in some reform, much like the Congress did in 1974. We should look at that example.”

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Pols, tenants weigh in on Silver, Skelos

State Senators Liz Krueger and Brad Hoylman say reports of corruption in Albany make people think all politicians are the same. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

State Senators Liz Krueger and Brad Hoylman say reports of corruption in Albany make people think all politicians are the same. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

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.’”

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