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 was recently asked to speak at the inauguration of a local judge. When it was my turn to give remarks, I told the packed crowd that the judge had asked me to speak about Albany. Without much prompting, the crowd broke into giggles. It’s telling that our state legislature is a punch line.
I think some of us can’t help but laugh because the corruption in Albany has taken on comic proportions. Consider the fact that the criminal acts perpetrated by former Republican Leader Dean Skelos were so brazen as to have been committed after the governor created a special commission under the Moreland Act to investigate public corruption in the state legislature and after the U.S. attorney announced that he had personally taken up the cause. It’s pathetic, sad – and yes, even funny – that Skelos was so arrogant and inept as to pursue his transgressions while federal prosecutors were busy listening to his every word.
The Skelos conviction is just one example why the public has lost confidence in state government. Unfortunately, there are plenty of other reasons, too. Since 2000, 41 state elected officials have been accused, indicted or convicted of official misconduct, including five legislators this year alone, among their ranks, of course, Skelos and former Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver. In the Senate, it’s breathtaking that since 2008, five consecutive leaders of this body have been arrested.