Letters to the editor, July 20

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

Cluttered ballot? It could be worse

Re: “Not everyone should have a shot,” letter by Billy Sternberg, T&V, June 29

In the dark days of NYC politics, there were a select few making back-room deals to further their personal goals and enrich themselves over the people. Corruption and cronyism were rampant. Reformers lifted the veil on these political fixes and enabled candidates from all backgrounds to successfully run grass-roots campaigns to allow voters to decide who gets to represent us.

Volunteers from the Samuel J. Tilden club have been carrying nominating petitions in ST/PCV and the neighborhood for the past six weeks. These petitions allow for candidates to appear on the ballot, and to ultimately present themselves before the voters who will be able to make a choice of who among those running will be our next representative.

While there are several people who have announced their candidacy to replace the term-limited Mr. Garodnick, it is this diversity of choice that keeps the process transparent and free from corruption. It is now the difficult task of these candidates to earn our votes.

We encourage everyone to participate in the process and become informed citizens by participating in the political discourse. Go to a forum, ask questions of the candidates and understand their individual experiences and capabilities.

This is how we should elect our next political leaders: out in the open.

Sandro Sherrod and Louise Dankberg,
District Leaders 74th AD

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No primary scheduled in 74th Assembly District, but no one tells voters – again

Helpful signs like the ones pictured above were nowhere to be found on Tuesday.

Helpful signs like the ones pictured above were nowhere to be found on Tuesday.

By Sabina Mollot

On Tuesday, Primary Day, there was no polling in the 74th Assembly District, due to no uncontested races. However, voters in the district, which includes Stuyvesant Town and Kips Bay, weren’t given notice of this, leading some to venture out to do their civic duty and be counted as they would do any other voting day.

“Just walked to polling place at 283 Avenue C only to discover nothing going on and definitely no signs,” one annoyed reader told Town & Village in an email on Tuesday. “Went to security to be informed that the Board of Elections notified them at about noon that since no one was running in our district they would save money and not open. Save money great… but what else do they have to do but inform voters?”

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TenantsPAC: Don’t expect Albany to change

 

Sheldon Silver

Sheldon Silver

By Sabina Mollot
On Monday, one of Albany’s former famed three men in a room, Sheldon Silver, was convicted on corruption charges, for a bribery and kickback scheme that netted him $4 million. Part of the scheme involved the Lower East Side pol using his influence to benefit two real estate developers, in particular Glenwood Management, while at the same time positioning himself as being tenant-friendly. He also directed taxpayer money to a cancer researcher while a doctor there steered patients suffering from asbestos exposure to a law firm that paid Silver referral fees.

However, his failure to sway a jury of his innocence won’t be enough to prompt Albany’s remaining power players to renounce their ways by pushing for campaign finance reform or the closure of the “LLC Loophole.”

Mike McKee, the outspoken treasurer of TenantsPAC, told Town & Village on Tuesday of this gloomy forecast, predicting things will be as they were before, with the onus on tenants to put pressure of their local elected leaders to make meaningful changes. Otherwise, forget it.

“I would hope,” McKee said, “that this would be a wakeup call to the public that something is fundamentally wrong with our system of government, and unless people start holding legislators accountable, the pay-to-play culture is not going to change ever. Why would it change?”

Following the conviction, Governor Cuomo promised some ethics reforms, according to news reports. (His office did not respond to a request for comment.) But when T&V asked McKee if he thought the embarrassment of an Albany ex-kingpin facing jail time might make the governor regret his decision to shut down his commission aimed at rooting out corruption, McKee laughed.

“I don’t think so,” he said. “Andrew Cuomo’s agenda is Andrew Cuomo. He has benefitted more than anyone from the system we have. He got more money from Glenwood than anyone else. When the Moreland Commission started investigating his fundraising, that’s when he shut it down. I really wish it’s going to change but it won’t unless constituents put on the pressure. Every time you see an elected official you have to ask, ‘What are you doing about campaign finance reform and the LLC Loophole and the election system so people can actually run against incumbents?’”

State Senator Brad Hoylman, however, disagreed with McKee, saying the Silver bombshell might be what it takes to get even his own house, where tenant-friendly legislation goes to die, to pass meaningful reforms.

“This is Albany’s Watergate moment,” said Hoylman. “I think this is a seismic event that has the potential to disrupt business as usual in Albany. The issue of outside income is key. The fact that Silver was able to take in $4 million in referral fees is on its face outrageous and is something we should consider ending.”

Hoylman said he’s been pushing for an end to this practice since his first year in office.

“It’s not a coincidence Congress came to this conclusion after Watergate,” he added. “The other key fact in the Silver case is the exploitation by real estate companies of limited liability corporations. The LLC Loophole is the primary vehicle of the real estate industry to hold sway over the legislature.”

The so-called LLC Loophole is a regulation that allows companies to make political donations for every limited liability corporation they run and real estate developers often have LLCs for each property they own.

“I think this is something we learned in the Silver case and I believe this issue is going to pick up steam — even in my house,” said Hoylman. “I think the public is rightfully outraged by what they’ve been hearing from the courthouse in Lower Manhattan.”
Earlier this year, Hoylman authored legislation that would make it a class C felony or a public servant to steer grants towards organizations that benefit their families or people they have business relationships with.

Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, who’s been pushing to close the LLC Loophole, did not respond to a request for comment on the Silver conviction.

As a result of the conviction, Silver must give up the Assembly seat he’s held onto for four decades. By Tuesday morning, Silver’s official Assembly web page was down. A spokesperson for the Assembly said she’d pass on a request for comment, but admitted she didn’t know who’d be handling Silver-related queries. One of Silver’s trial attorneys, Steven Molo, didn’t respond to a request for comment although he did tell Real Estate Weekly he’d be appealing.

“Weʼre obviously very disappointed and we had hoped the jury would see it our way,ˮ Molo said. “We are sorry that they didn’t but we believe that we’re on strong legal ground.ˮ

The road to reform in Albany

By former Assemblyman Steven Sanders

The King is dead. Long live the King!

By now you have heard, ad nauseum, about the indictments and resignation of Sheldon Silver as speaker of the New York State Assembly. Assemblyman Carl Heastie from the Bronx has been elected as speaker.

The stunning downfall of Mr. Silver is very sad on many levels. On a personal note he has been a friend and an ally. I believe that as the leader of the Assembly for 21 years he accomplished much. Notwithstanding the charges of personal corruption alleged against him which a court must ultimately decide, I believe that from a public policy standpoint, Silver leaves his post and the state better off than he found it. But if his arrest and fall from grace is the ultimate result and legacy of this year’s legislative session in Albany that will be sadder still. Reform is needed and badly. And if not now, when?

The public needs to have confidence in its elected officials and its government institutions. Plainly said, today they do not.

The road to reform does not begin and end with the State Assembly; it must go through the State Senate as well as the governor’s office. Reform does not mean replacing one leader for another; it means systemic and enduring changes that will hold public officials to a higher standard of conduct. And it will mean that current office holders, including the governor, will have to sacrifice some of their current and cherished prerogatives.

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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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Reform a possibility with Silver no longer Assembly speaker, TenantsPAC wary of potential distractions from rent laws

TeantsPAC Treasurer Mike McKee (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

TeantsPAC Treasurer Mike McKee (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

After a whirlwind week that began with an arrest of one of Albany’s most powerful men and is ending with Sheldon Silver no longer having the title of Assembly speaker, what has remained up in the air is just how much actual legislation will get done as Albany is distracted by the implementation of a new speaker, and possible implementation of a new, more egalitarian power structure.

While not one to complain about reforms in Albany, the timing is naturally a concern for tenant advocates like Mike McKee, treasurer of TenantsPAC, considering the rent laws are scheduled to sunset this June.

Two weeks ago, when news of an investigation into an alleged long-running bribery and kickback scheme perpetuated by Silver started to surface, McKee said it was too soon to predict how it would affect one of Albany’s “three men in a room” – or tenants.

But as of Monday evening, some of Silver’s fellow Assembly Democrats were calling on him to resign and an idea that had been floated a day earlier to appoint five Assembly members to act as speaker while he worked to beat the rap against him had fizzled.

Democrat legislators calling for him to resign early on included Comptroller Scott Stringer, State Senator Brad Hoylman and in the Assembly, Democrats Brian Kavanagh and Keith Wright.

“He should understand that he’s lost the confidence of a majority of our conference,” the New York Times quoted Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh as saying of Sheldon Silver after a closed-door meeting on Monday night. Kavanagh did not respond to calls for comment from Town & Village.

However, by Tuesday night, Silver’s ouster (or resigning) as speaker along with an announcement that a replacement would be coming soon was pretty much a done deal, according to published reports. Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle will be interim speaker until an election is held on February 10, according to City & State.

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