Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/senate-majority-leader 2017-10-23T15:32:46+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com Democrats and Republicans Run Parallel Races in Special Elections Created by Corruption 2016-03-13T21:06:49+00:00 2016-03-13T21:06:49+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6221:democrats-republicans-run-parallel-races-in-special-elections-created-by-corruption Super User <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/mcgrath_senate.jpg" alt="mcgrath senate" width="600" height="368" /></p> <p><span style="font-size: 10pt;">Chris McGrath, Republican candidate for state Senate (photo: @McGrath4Senate)</span>&nbsp;</p> <hr /> <p>Both groups are accustomed to scrapping for power and attention. With two recent federal corruption convictions, each saw an opportunity to grab more. And now, in downtown Manhattan and Nassau County Long Island, Republicans and Democrats are running parallel campaigns to seize upon a chance to flip one seat in each of the two houses of the New York State Legislature.&nbsp;</p> <p>Assembly Republicans and Senate Democrats again find themselves in similar positions - each trying to win a special election to replace a deposed leader by painting the majority candidate as a product of the man they are vying to replace and symbol of Albany dysfunction. The majority candidates, in turn, face questions about how much government reform they actually support.</p> <p>The races to replace former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Long Island Republican, have become testament to the quirkiness of New York politics and the Albany tradition whereby legislative majorities look the other way and promulgate a system long-criticized for a lack of transparency and ethics.</p> <p>To be sure, the Senate race presents a far more likely opportunity for the minority party to pick up a seat, as well as a more consequential potential shift in the house with a near-equal balance of power. Democrats not only hold a far wider voter registration advantage in Manhattan, but in their control of the Assembly.</p> <p>Set for April 19, the two elections are unfolding against the backdrop of budget negotiations in Albany, which Silver and Skelos - along with Gov. Andrew Cuomo - dominated for years. It seemed likely earlier this year that budget season would include ethics reform as a major ingredient, however Cuomo, a Democrat, has rarely mentioned ethics since unveiling a significant reform platform during his State of the State address in January.</p> <p>On Friday, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6219-heastie-outlines-assembly-ethics-plan" target="_blank">outlined his chamber's ethics plan</a>, which aligns fairly closely with Cuomo's. Senate Republicans, on the other hand, have indicated that they see little need for further reforms to prevent and punish government corruption.</p> <p>Many believe that ethics reforms will be dropped from the budget, where Cuomo has the most leverage to negotiate them if he truly wants them enacted. In the legislative session to follow the budget, there's no urgency like during budget time and this year legislators will be in a hurry to get back to their districts for campaign season. It leaves many Albany observers and actors wondering whether there will be any tangible impact on Albany from the recent corruption convictions besides the two vacancies they created.</p> <p>In the special election to replace Skelos, Democratic Assembly Member Todd Kaminsky, a former federal prosecutor, and Christopher McGrath, a personal injury attorney, face off in the Nassau County district.</p> <p>The stakes are particularly high as control of the 63-seat Senate depends on just a few swing districts. Democrats have tried to paint McGrath as part of the Republican county apparatus that supported Skelos. Senate Republicans have mostly pushed back against ethics reforms such as limiting outside income, closing the LLC loophole, and other tougher campaign finance laws, saying that there will always be bad apples and that previous reforms should be enough.</p> <p>McGrath has said he will not step away from his law practice if elected, something Democrats have seized on as Silver was convicted on charges of using state money in a scheme to receive kickbacks from his law firm. The new Assembly ethics plan unveiled on Friday includes both new limits to what legislators can make in outside income and a mandate that lawyer-legislators must earn their outside income through casework, not simply being "of counsel" at a firm.</p> <p>Democrats have played up Kaminsky's experience as a federal prosecutor and his condemnation of corruption across party lines. "Todd Kaminsky is exactly who Long Islanders need to clean up Albany," said Senator Chuck Schumer as he endorsed Kaminsky on Friday (pictured). "As a federal corruption prosecutor, Todd took on the tough cases and made sure that if you broke the law, you were held accountable - regardless of whether you are a Democrat or Republican."</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/kaminsky_schumer.jpg" alt="kaminsky schumer" style="margin: 5px; float: left;" width="250" height="334" /></p> <p>Republicans have countered that Kaminsky failed to break from Silver during his time as an Assembly member. They have also made Kaminsky's election about Mayor Bill de Blasio, saying that a Democratic majority would be a mechanism for spreading de Blasio's liberal agenda across the state.</p> <p>McGrath has supported Republican-backed measures to strip pensions from lawmakers convicted of corruption and to put term limits on legislative leaders.</p> <p>"How can [Todd Kaminsky] say he supports pension forfeiture, term limits for leaders but he and his NYC allies in Assembly won't pass either?" <a href="https://twitter.com/ScottReif1/status/703261489969414144" target="_blank">tweeted</a> Republican spokesperson Scott Reif late last month. Reif and Democratic spokesperson Mike Murphy have been regularly engaging in public arguments about the race on Twitter.</p> <p>The forfeiture issue became complicated when Senate Republicans passed a measure that would have any state employee forfeit their pension if convicted and unions pressed the Assembly to back a law limited to elected officials.</p> <p>"Despite all the bluster that ethics reform isn't important I think these convictions have changed their thinking," said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group about Senate Republicans. "It's clearly changed their choice in candidates. They've picked a relative outsider in Chris McGrath." Horner said Senate Republicans also chose a relative unknown in their successful 2015 bid to replace Sen. Tom Libous, who was also convicted on federal charges, with relative unknown Fred Akshar.</p> <p>Sen. Michael Gianaris of Queens, who heads the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee, painted McGrath as a "Skelos crony" in an interview with Gotham Gazette. Gianaris referenced a Daily News story that reported McGrath represented a Republican political club and campaign manager and long-time friend of Skelos in a suit brought in 1997 by a former employee of the Nassau County Bridge Authority who said he was forced from his position after trying to remove a number of patronage hires.</p> <p>"What's past is prologue," said Gianaris. "When Nassau County Republicans had ethics trouble years ago they went to Chris McGrath and here they are after Skelos' conviction turning to him again."</p> <p>Democrats have hit McGrath for the association in attack ads. McGrath's campaign and representative of the Republican Majority have said that McGrath simply <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/blogs/dailypolitics/gop-senate-candidate-represented-man-close-dean-skelos-blog-entry-1.2546542" target="_blank">represented his friend</a>.</p> <p>The race to replace Silver has similar theme, albeit with the shoes on the other feet, but is decidedly lower stakes. Assembly Republicans have little chance of taking a majority in their chamber for the foreseeable future, however winning Silver's seat would be a tremendous moral victory for them. Some Democrats have privately acknowledged that they expect Republican candidate Lester Chang to perform better than expected in what is an extremely Democratic district, thanks to a fractious Democratic nomination process.</p> <p>In that process, local Democrats decided to support a Silver disciple despite condemnation from many Democrats, Republicans, and government watchdogs.</p> <p>The special election process dictates that instead of a primary the local party apparatus picks a candidate. To name a Democratic nominee, four clubs marshalled their members, with three of them backing Alice Cancel, whose name will be on the party's ballot line. One of those clubs counts Silver's wife and their allies as its members. The result was a number of reform Democrats decrying the process. Yuh-Line Niou dropped out of the selection process in protest and his now running on the Working Families Party Line. She's been endorsed by Comptroller Scott Stringer and several others (Cancel happens to work under Stringer at the comptroller's office.)</p> <p>District Leader Paul Newell, who previously challenged Silver unsuccessfully, has decided to skip the special election and run in a Democratic primary in the fall when the seat will be up for grabs again. District Leader Jenifer Rajkumar also plans to run at that time.</p> <p>Cancel has done nothing to distance herself from Silver and has in fact praised him repeatedly. "For us, he was a hero — because of the things he brought to our community, because of the schools that we didn't have that were built because of his negotiations to get it done for the community. The money that he poured in for our seniors, for our daycare, for our Head Start. Why would we be attacking him?" Cancel said in <a href="http://www.thelodownny.com/leslog/2016/02/our-interview-with-alice-cancel-democratic-nominee-in-the-65th-ad.html" target="_blank">an interview</a> with The Lo-Down about the selection process and her candidacy.</p> <p>"I think people are aware of both of those things," Newell told Gotham Gazette. "There is no question he did a lot for his district, but they are also aware that reform is necessary."</p> <p>Manhattan Republican Chair Adele Malpass said that she sees Cancel's candidacy as a clear indication that the Silver indictment had little impact on those in power. "It shows there is no consequence for corruption, there was no message received at all," Malpass told Gotham Gazette. "This was just business as usual. They had eight candidates to choose from and the one they picked was backed by Silver's wife and called him a hero. This is just the party boss system and people are afraid to challenge them."</p> <p>Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, who has been an outspoken critic of the power enjoyed by both legislative majorities and their reticence toward reform, recently headlined a fundraiser for Chang and did some campaigning with him.</p> <p>"It is surprising to me to see Silver indicted, tried and convicted so quickly only to turn around and have his wife, and Judy Rapfogel involved in selecting his replacement," Kolb told Gotham Gazette, referring to Silver's former chief of staff. "And then on top of that, [Cancel] comes out and says [Silver's] a hero."</p> <p>Despite his previous criticism of both majorities Kolb offered a brighter interpretation of how the Senate Majority has handled filling Skelos' seat. "Yes local republicans were involved in the selection process, but Dean Skelos' family was not involved in selecting a candidate," Kolb told Gotham Gazette. "I think Todd Kaminsky is a handsome, experienced prosecutor, but he supported Shelly Silver and he didn't support the [pension] forfeiture amendment."</p> <p>Kolb said that if Chang is elected he will be able to vote his conscience and will not be ordered how to vote by leadership - something he says occurs in both the Senate and Assembly majorities.</p> <p>Horner, of NYPIRG, said he suspects that Gov. Cuomo and both majorities have been working to tamp down discussion of reform because it benefits them politically. "It's pretty clear the political establishment in New York does not want to allow any oxygen into the room on ethics," Horner told Gotham Gazette. "That air fuels the fire of voters anger and they want it to burn out, they want to smother. If it's not in the budget then I assume they will do it in June and they are hoping by then people won't be as angry. We need a champion and the governor is the obvious person to be that champion but he is choosing not to do it."</p> <p>It is unclear how much the Silver and Skelos convictions or the former leaders' ties to candidates seeking to replace them will have on voters. But, about 9 in 10 New Yorkers recently polled <a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2016/02/siena-poll-corruption-a-serious-problem-but-education-remains-a-top-concern/" target="_blank">called</a> government corruption a "very serious" or "somewhat serious" problem in state government.</p> <p>U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who took down both Silver and Skelos, has repeatedly said that corruption in government is cultural, not partisan or regional.</p> <p>"In recent times, the New York Legislature has been marked by regular bribery, rampant kickbacks and a rancid culture," Bharara <a href="http://wamc.org/post/preet-bharara-linda#stream/0" target="_blank">said</a> during a talk in Albany last month. "Recent events paint a portrait of the show me the money culture in the worst possible way. It continues, by the way, to be a bipartisan affair, Republican and Democrat, in the Assembly and in the Senate, upstate and downstate."</p> <p>

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/mcgrath_senate.jpg" alt="mcgrath senate" width="600" height="368" /></p> <p><span style="font-size: 10pt;">Chris McGrath, Republican candidate for state Senate (photo: @McGrath4Senate)</span>&nbsp;</p> <hr /> <p>Both groups are accustomed to scrapping for power and attention. With two recent federal corruption convictions, each saw an opportunity to grab more. And now, in downtown Manhattan and Nassau County Long Island, Republicans and Democrats are running parallel campaigns to seize upon a chance to flip one seat in each of the two houses of the New York State Legislature.&nbsp;</p> <p>Assembly Republicans and Senate Democrats again find themselves in similar positions - each trying to win a special election to replace a deposed leader by painting the majority candidate as a product of the man they are vying to replace and symbol of Albany dysfunction. The majority candidates, in turn, face questions about how much government reform they actually support.</p> <p>The races to replace former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Long Island Republican, have become testament to the quirkiness of New York politics and the Albany tradition whereby legislative majorities look the other way and promulgate a system long-criticized for a lack of transparency and ethics.</p> <p>To be sure, the Senate race presents a far more likely opportunity for the minority party to pick up a seat, as well as a more consequential potential shift in the house with a near-equal balance of power. Democrats not only hold a far wider voter registration advantage in Manhattan, but in their control of the Assembly.</p> <p>Set for April 19, the two elections are unfolding against the backdrop of budget negotiations in Albany, which Silver and Skelos - along with Gov. Andrew Cuomo - dominated for years. It seemed likely earlier this year that budget season would include ethics reform as a major ingredient, however Cuomo, a Democrat, has rarely mentioned ethics since unveiling a significant reform platform during his State of the State address in January.</p> <p>On Friday, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6219-heastie-outlines-assembly-ethics-plan" target="_blank">outlined his chamber's ethics plan</a>, which aligns fairly closely with Cuomo's. Senate Republicans, on the other hand, have indicated that they see little need for further reforms to prevent and punish government corruption.</p> <p>Many believe that ethics reforms will be dropped from the budget, where Cuomo has the most leverage to negotiate them if he truly wants them enacted. In the legislative session to follow the budget, there's no urgency like during budget time and this year legislators will be in a hurry to get back to their districts for campaign season. It leaves many Albany observers and actors wondering whether there will be any tangible impact on Albany from the recent corruption convictions besides the two vacancies they created.</p> <p>In the special election to replace Skelos, Democratic Assembly Member Todd Kaminsky, a former federal prosecutor, and Christopher McGrath, a personal injury attorney, face off in the Nassau County district.</p> <p>The stakes are particularly high as control of the 63-seat Senate depends on just a few swing districts. Democrats have tried to paint McGrath as part of the Republican county apparatus that supported Skelos. Senate Republicans have mostly pushed back against ethics reforms such as limiting outside income, closing the LLC loophole, and other tougher campaign finance laws, saying that there will always be bad apples and that previous reforms should be enough.</p> <p>McGrath has said he will not step away from his law practice if elected, something Democrats have seized on as Silver was convicted on charges of using state money in a scheme to receive kickbacks from his law firm. The new Assembly ethics plan unveiled on Friday includes both new limits to what legislators can make in outside income and a mandate that lawyer-legislators must earn their outside income through casework, not simply being "of counsel" at a firm.</p> <p>Democrats have played up Kaminsky's experience as a federal prosecutor and his condemnation of corruption across party lines. "Todd Kaminsky is exactly who Long Islanders need to clean up Albany," said Senator Chuck Schumer as he endorsed Kaminsky on Friday (pictured). "As a federal corruption prosecutor, Todd took on the tough cases and made sure that if you broke the law, you were held accountable - regardless of whether you are a Democrat or Republican."</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/kaminsky_schumer.jpg" alt="kaminsky schumer" style="margin: 5px; float: left;" width="250" height="334" /></p> <p>Republicans have countered that Kaminsky failed to break from Silver during his time as an Assembly member. They have also made Kaminsky's election about Mayor Bill de Blasio, saying that a Democratic majority would be a mechanism for spreading de Blasio's liberal agenda across the state.</p> <p>McGrath has supported Republican-backed measures to strip pensions from lawmakers convicted of corruption and to put term limits on legislative leaders.</p> <p>"How can [Todd Kaminsky] say he supports pension forfeiture, term limits for leaders but he and his NYC allies in Assembly won't pass either?" <a href="https://twitter.com/ScottReif1/status/703261489969414144" target="_blank">tweeted</a> Republican spokesperson Scott Reif late last month. Reif and Democratic spokesperson Mike Murphy have been regularly engaging in public arguments about the race on Twitter.</p> <p>The forfeiture issue became complicated when Senate Republicans passed a measure that would have any state employee forfeit their pension if convicted and unions pressed the Assembly to back a law limited to elected officials.</p> <p>"Despite all the bluster that ethics reform isn't important I think these convictions have changed their thinking," said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group about Senate Republicans. "It's clearly changed their choice in candidates. They've picked a relative outsider in Chris McGrath." Horner said Senate Republicans also chose a relative unknown in their successful 2015 bid to replace Sen. Tom Libous, who was also convicted on federal charges, with relative unknown Fred Akshar.</p> <p>Sen. Michael Gianaris of Queens, who heads the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee, painted McGrath as a "Skelos crony" in an interview with Gotham Gazette. Gianaris referenced a Daily News story that reported McGrath represented a Republican political club and campaign manager and long-time friend of Skelos in a suit brought in 1997 by a former employee of the Nassau County Bridge Authority who said he was forced from his position after trying to remove a number of patronage hires.</p> <p>"What's past is prologue," said Gianaris. "When Nassau County Republicans had ethics trouble years ago they went to Chris McGrath and here they are after Skelos' conviction turning to him again."</p> <p>Democrats have hit McGrath for the association in attack ads. McGrath's campaign and representative of the Republican Majority have said that McGrath simply <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/blogs/dailypolitics/gop-senate-candidate-represented-man-close-dean-skelos-blog-entry-1.2546542" target="_blank">represented his friend</a>.</p> <p>The race to replace Silver has similar theme, albeit with the shoes on the other feet, but is decidedly lower stakes. Assembly Republicans have little chance of taking a majority in their chamber for the foreseeable future, however winning Silver's seat would be a tremendous moral victory for them. Some Democrats have privately acknowledged that they expect Republican candidate Lester Chang to perform better than expected in what is an extremely Democratic district, thanks to a fractious Democratic nomination process.</p> <p>In that process, local Democrats decided to support a Silver disciple despite condemnation from many Democrats, Republicans, and government watchdogs.</p> <p>The special election process dictates that instead of a primary the local party apparatus picks a candidate. To name a Democratic nominee, four clubs marshalled their members, with three of them backing Alice Cancel, whose name will be on the party's ballot line. One of those clubs counts Silver's wife and their allies as its members. The result was a number of reform Democrats decrying the process. Yuh-Line Niou dropped out of the selection process in protest and his now running on the Working Families Party Line. She's been endorsed by Comptroller Scott Stringer and several others (Cancel happens to work under Stringer at the comptroller's office.)</p> <p>District Leader Paul Newell, who previously challenged Silver unsuccessfully, has decided to skip the special election and run in a Democratic primary in the fall when the seat will be up for grabs again. District Leader Jenifer Rajkumar also plans to run at that time.</p> <p>Cancel has done nothing to distance herself from Silver and has in fact praised him repeatedly. "For us, he was a hero — because of the things he brought to our community, because of the schools that we didn't have that were built because of his negotiations to get it done for the community. The money that he poured in for our seniors, for our daycare, for our Head Start. Why would we be attacking him?" Cancel said in <a href="http://www.thelodownny.com/leslog/2016/02/our-interview-with-alice-cancel-democratic-nominee-in-the-65th-ad.html" target="_blank">an interview</a> with The Lo-Down about the selection process and her candidacy.</p> <p>"I think people are aware of both of those things," Newell told Gotham Gazette. "There is no question he did a lot for his district, but they are also aware that reform is necessary."</p> <p>Manhattan Republican Chair Adele Malpass said that she sees Cancel's candidacy as a clear indication that the Silver indictment had little impact on those in power. "It shows there is no consequence for corruption, there was no message received at all," Malpass told Gotham Gazette. "This was just business as usual. They had eight candidates to choose from and the one they picked was backed by Silver's wife and called him a hero. This is just the party boss system and people are afraid to challenge them."</p> <p>Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, who has been an outspoken critic of the power enjoyed by both legislative majorities and their reticence toward reform, recently headlined a fundraiser for Chang and did some campaigning with him.</p> <p>"It is surprising to me to see Silver indicted, tried and convicted so quickly only to turn around and have his wife, and Judy Rapfogel involved in selecting his replacement," Kolb told Gotham Gazette, referring to Silver's former chief of staff. "And then on top of that, [Cancel] comes out and says [Silver's] a hero."</p> <p>Despite his previous criticism of both majorities Kolb offered a brighter interpretation of how the Senate Majority has handled filling Skelos' seat. "Yes local republicans were involved in the selection process, but Dean Skelos' family was not involved in selecting a candidate," Kolb told Gotham Gazette. "I think Todd Kaminsky is a handsome, experienced prosecutor, but he supported Shelly Silver and he didn't support the [pension] forfeiture amendment."</p> <p>Kolb said that if Chang is elected he will be able to vote his conscience and will not be ordered how to vote by leadership - something he says occurs in both the Senate and Assembly majorities.</p> <p>Horner, of NYPIRG, said he suspects that Gov. Cuomo and both majorities have been working to tamp down discussion of reform because it benefits them politically. "It's pretty clear the political establishment in New York does not want to allow any oxygen into the room on ethics," Horner told Gotham Gazette. "That air fuels the fire of voters anger and they want it to burn out, they want to smother. If it's not in the budget then I assume they will do it in June and they are hoping by then people won't be as angry. We need a champion and the governor is the obvious person to be that champion but he is choosing not to do it."</p> <p>It is unclear how much the Silver and Skelos convictions or the former leaders' ties to candidates seeking to replace them will have on voters. But, about 9 in 10 New Yorkers recently polled <a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2016/02/siena-poll-corruption-a-serious-problem-but-education-remains-a-top-concern/" target="_blank">called</a> government corruption a "very serious" or "somewhat serious" problem in state government.</p> <p>U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who took down both Silver and Skelos, has repeatedly said that corruption in government is cultural, not partisan or regional.</p> <p>"In recent times, the New York Legislature has been marked by regular bribery, rampant kickbacks and a rancid culture," Bharara <a href="http://wamc.org/post/preet-bharara-linda#stream/0" target="_blank">said</a> during a talk in Albany last month. "Recent events paint a portrait of the show me the money culture in the worst possible way. It continues, by the way, to be a bipartisan affair, Republican and Democrat, in the Assembly and in the Senate, upstate and downstate."</p> <p>

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Bharara Visits Capital He Upended 2016-02-07T21:57:03+00:00 2016-02-07T21:57:03+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6154:bharara-visits-capital-he-upended kfan <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/bharara_mortgage.jpg" alt="bharara mortgage" height="600" width="600" /></p> <p>U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara (<a href="https://twitter.com/SDNYnews/status/533361770761838593" target="_blank">photo</a>: @SDNYnews)</p> <hr /> <p>For the last year a siege mentality has dominated the New York state capitol. And in some respect, Albany, or at least the political denizens who dwell within the capitol, does appear to be very much in the cross hairs of a conquering army headed by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. The main roads into town feature digital billboards flashing entreaties from the FBI urging New Yorkers to "REPORT CORRUPTION," along with a number for the New York State Public Corruption Task Force.</p> <p>On Monday, Bharara may drive by those very signs as he makes his way to Albany for a series of events, including two speaking engagements. The crusading prosecutor's presence may be enough to make already-nervous Albany lawmakers break into a cold sweat.</p> <p>The most powerful people in Albany - lobbyists, legislators, and even Gov. Andrew Cuomo - have watched as Bharara has gone from prosecuting rank-and-file legislators to decapitating both houses of the legislature by securing the convictions of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos on multiple counts of corruption. All the while Bharara has maintained investigations into Cuomo's dealings, with the prosecutor's mantra of "Stay tuned" casting a larger-than-life shadow.</p> <p>Although he promised major reforms during his recent State of the State address, Cuomo has since avoided the press in Albany, continuing his streak of not holding a press conference at the capitol, now at over 200 days. The current majority leaders have also remained largely mum on ethics since the start of the year. Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie voiced support for various reforms early in January, but has said little since. His working group on Assembly rules and transparency continues to delay the release of proposals to make the body more open and democratic.</p> <p>Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan has pushed back against the very idea that there is any need for reforms, pointing to changes made over the last several years and asserting the need for individuals to act of high moral character.</p> <p>Bharara has made it clear that he continues watching.</p> <p>On Monday, Bharara will take something of an up-close look, as he heads to Albany for several events and speaks publicly twice. The first speaking event will take place a short walk from the capitol building when Bharara addresses the New York State Conference of Mayors; the other hosted by good government groups and WAMC public radio--a veritable public radio empire that reaches across upstate New York and into Vermont and Connecticut. The topic for both events will, of course, be fighting public corruption. Bharara is also set to appear, along with Gov. Cuomo, at the swearing in of new Chief Judge Janet DiFiore.</p> <p>Bharara will not be addressing the state legislature, even though he recently made the trip to Frankfort, Kentucky to discuss public corruption and the type of culture that allows it to fester in New York. Throughout his examination of New York state government, Bharara has not only found several examples of illegal activity, but he has also decried legally corrupt practices, such as the infamous "three men in a room" method of deciding virtually all important state policy.</p> <p>Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, a Republican, invited Bharara to address his conference, but Bharara's office prefered to address a bipartisan gathering. Kolb, in turn, wrote to the majority leaders of each conference in both houses, asking them to jointly invite Bharara to address the legislature as a whole. "They haven't even bothered to respond to my letter," Kolb told Gotham Gazette. "What are they so afraid of?"</p> <p>Kolb, who will be speaking before Bharara on Monday at the mayors conference, said he hopes to hear more from Bharara on how the "three men in a room" power structure in Albany defeats transparency and allows corruption to fester.</p> <p>"Mr. Bharara has asked 'Since when has it become acceptable for three men to decide everything?,' And I expect he will focus on that again. It's not about getting our way, but about asking questions about how things are structured, about payments, pots of money. Making sure our constituents are represented. I mean there was even that Skelos quote where he said, 'I control everything.' These guys have too much power," Kolb said.</p> <p>John Kaehny of good government group Reinvent Albany is also interested in hearing Bharara attack the culture in Albany that might not necessarily be prosecutable.</p> <p>"Hopefully he says: 'The real scandal is what's legal.'" said Kaehny, referring to what many, including Bharara, have said about Albany's usual ways of doing business.</p> <p>"In Albany," Kaehny said, "the governor can give a bag full of taxpayer money to a big business and that business can give him a bag of money back, or a bag full via unlimited LLC contributions. All legal. Yet in New York City, it is a crime for people doing business with the city to contribute more than $400" to a campaign.</p> <p>Among Kaehny's concerns are that law firms that represent state agencies and authorities can also lobby on behalf of private clients.</p> <p>"It goes on and on," said Kaehny. "The conflict of interest is so baked into how Albany works that Silver tried to use it as a defense."</p> <p>Bharara has addressed how Albany's culture has played into many of the cases he prosecuted.</p> <p>"If you're one of the three men in a room, and you have all the power and you always have and everyone knows it," Bharara told an audience at New York Law School last January following Silver's arrest. "You don't tolerate dissent because you don't have to. You don't allow debate because you don't have to, and because the status quo always benefits you."</p> <p>The three men in the room are the governor, Assembly speaker, and Senate president. For several years running, those men were Andrew Cuomo, Sheldon Silver, and Dean Skelos. Thanks to Bharara, both Silver and Skelos are awaiting sentencing on federal charges.</p> <p>In his New York Law School speech, Bharara mocked "three men in a room," joking about what happens behind closed doors, asking whether women are allowed and wondering if perhaps it gets "a little gamey in that room."</p> <p>But he quickly returned to the serious, saying that the elected officials end up getting "swept up in the power and the trappings, because you were never challenged, and because you can easily forget who put you there in the first place. And so I ask again, what kind of a system is that?"</p> <p>Bharara also took the time to recognize the legislators in attendance--he didn't exactly honor them. "I see there are a number of elected officials here. And after yesterday I guess I have two theories as to why that might be. One might be that you knew I was taking attendance. And the other is that there are a lot of folks now looking for immunity," he said, in his typical wry manner.</p> <p>That fear that Bharara is watching, that he is still working on unearthing new misdeeds, has paralyzed legislative leaders on a number of issues over the last year. Some have confided to aides and others that they aren't sure what Bharara is after, or who he has flipped to his side. Many note that there are clear connections between legislative action and campaign donations that are ripe for investigation. Legislators have also been put on notice regarding their abuse of per diem reimbursements, use of campaign cash for personal expenses, and other misdeeds.</p> <p>It appears to many that Bharara started this year by giving Cuomo and legislators an opportunity to reflect on the gravity of the Silver and Skelos convictions and actually get to work on real reforms. A number of insiders see Bharara's announcement in January that he did not have enough evidence to indict anyone on the untimely end of The Moreland Commission on Public Corruption as a way to take some pressure off of Cuomo to allow him to take the initiative on ethics in his State of the State address. Those same insiders see Bharara's visit as a nudge to Cuomo and legislative leaders to actually deliver on reforms this year.</p> <p>In his State of the State platform, Cuomo <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6087-cuomo-unveils-ethics-plan-to-questions-of-follow-through" target="_blank">announced his intentions</a> to see the LLC loophole closed, strict limits set on legislators' outside income, a public campaign finance system established, and <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6087-cuomo-unveils-ethics-plan-to-questions-of-follow-through" target="_blank">other changes</a> made to prevent corruption. Whether Bharara wades into any of those specifics is to be seen.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6087-cuomo-unveils-ethics-plan-to-questions-of-follow-through" target="_blank">Cuomo Announces Ethics Plan to Questions of Follow Through</a>]</p> <p>

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/bharara_mortgage.jpg" alt="bharara mortgage" height="600" width="600" /></p> <p>U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara (<a href="https://twitter.com/SDNYnews/status/533361770761838593" target="_blank">photo</a>: @SDNYnews)</p> <hr /> <p>For the last year a siege mentality has dominated the New York state capitol. And in some respect, Albany, or at least the political denizens who dwell within the capitol, does appear to be very much in the cross hairs of a conquering army headed by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. The main roads into town feature digital billboards flashing entreaties from the FBI urging New Yorkers to "REPORT CORRUPTION," along with a number for the New York State Public Corruption Task Force.</p> <p>On Monday, Bharara may drive by those very signs as he makes his way to Albany for a series of events, including two speaking engagements. The crusading prosecutor's presence may be enough to make already-nervous Albany lawmakers break into a cold sweat.</p> <p>The most powerful people in Albany - lobbyists, legislators, and even Gov. Andrew Cuomo - have watched as Bharara has gone from prosecuting rank-and-file legislators to decapitating both houses of the legislature by securing the convictions of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos on multiple counts of corruption. All the while Bharara has maintained investigations into Cuomo's dealings, with the prosecutor's mantra of "Stay tuned" casting a larger-than-life shadow.</p> <p>Although he promised major reforms during his recent State of the State address, Cuomo has since avoided the press in Albany, continuing his streak of not holding a press conference at the capitol, now at over 200 days. The current majority leaders have also remained largely mum on ethics since the start of the year. Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie voiced support for various reforms early in January, but has said little since. His working group on Assembly rules and transparency continues to delay the release of proposals to make the body more open and democratic.</p> <p>Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan has pushed back against the very idea that there is any need for reforms, pointing to changes made over the last several years and asserting the need for individuals to act of high moral character.</p> <p>Bharara has made it clear that he continues watching.</p> <p>On Monday, Bharara will take something of an up-close look, as he heads to Albany for several events and speaks publicly twice. The first speaking event will take place a short walk from the capitol building when Bharara addresses the New York State Conference of Mayors; the other hosted by good government groups and WAMC public radio--a veritable public radio empire that reaches across upstate New York and into Vermont and Connecticut. The topic for both events will, of course, be fighting public corruption. Bharara is also set to appear, along with Gov. Cuomo, at the swearing in of new Chief Judge Janet DiFiore.</p> <p>Bharara will not be addressing the state legislature, even though he recently made the trip to Frankfort, Kentucky to discuss public corruption and the type of culture that allows it to fester in New York. Throughout his examination of New York state government, Bharara has not only found several examples of illegal activity, but he has also decried legally corrupt practices, such as the infamous "three men in a room" method of deciding virtually all important state policy.</p> <p>Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, a Republican, invited Bharara to address his conference, but Bharara's office prefered to address a bipartisan gathering. Kolb, in turn, wrote to the majority leaders of each conference in both houses, asking them to jointly invite Bharara to address the legislature as a whole. "They haven't even bothered to respond to my letter," Kolb told Gotham Gazette. "What are they so afraid of?"</p> <p>Kolb, who will be speaking before Bharara on Monday at the mayors conference, said he hopes to hear more from Bharara on how the "three men in a room" power structure in Albany defeats transparency and allows corruption to fester.</p> <p>"Mr. Bharara has asked 'Since when has it become acceptable for three men to decide everything?,' And I expect he will focus on that again. It's not about getting our way, but about asking questions about how things are structured, about payments, pots of money. Making sure our constituents are represented. I mean there was even that Skelos quote where he said, 'I control everything.' These guys have too much power," Kolb said.</p> <p>John Kaehny of good government group Reinvent Albany is also interested in hearing Bharara attack the culture in Albany that might not necessarily be prosecutable.</p> <p>"Hopefully he says: 'The real scandal is what's legal.'" said Kaehny, referring to what many, including Bharara, have said about Albany's usual ways of doing business.</p> <p>"In Albany," Kaehny said, "the governor can give a bag full of taxpayer money to a big business and that business can give him a bag of money back, or a bag full via unlimited LLC contributions. All legal. Yet in New York City, it is a crime for people doing business with the city to contribute more than $400" to a campaign.</p> <p>Among Kaehny's concerns are that law firms that represent state agencies and authorities can also lobby on behalf of private clients.</p> <p>"It goes on and on," said Kaehny. "The conflict of interest is so baked into how Albany works that Silver tried to use it as a defense."</p> <p>Bharara has addressed how Albany's culture has played into many of the cases he prosecuted.</p> <p>"If you're one of the three men in a room, and you have all the power and you always have and everyone knows it," Bharara told an audience at New York Law School last January following Silver's arrest. "You don't tolerate dissent because you don't have to. You don't allow debate because you don't have to, and because the status quo always benefits you."</p> <p>The three men in the room are the governor, Assembly speaker, and Senate president. For several years running, those men were Andrew Cuomo, Sheldon Silver, and Dean Skelos. Thanks to Bharara, both Silver and Skelos are awaiting sentencing on federal charges.</p> <p>In his New York Law School speech, Bharara mocked "three men in a room," joking about what happens behind closed doors, asking whether women are allowed and wondering if perhaps it gets "a little gamey in that room."</p> <p>But he quickly returned to the serious, saying that the elected officials end up getting "swept up in the power and the trappings, because you were never challenged, and because you can easily forget who put you there in the first place. And so I ask again, what kind of a system is that?"</p> <p>Bharara also took the time to recognize the legislators in attendance--he didn't exactly honor them. "I see there are a number of elected officials here. And after yesterday I guess I have two theories as to why that might be. One might be that you knew I was taking attendance. And the other is that there are a lot of folks now looking for immunity," he said, in his typical wry manner.</p> <p>That fear that Bharara is watching, that he is still working on unearthing new misdeeds, has paralyzed legislative leaders on a number of issues over the last year. Some have confided to aides and others that they aren't sure what Bharara is after, or who he has flipped to his side. Many note that there are clear connections between legislative action and campaign donations that are ripe for investigation. Legislators have also been put on notice regarding their abuse of per diem reimbursements, use of campaign cash for personal expenses, and other misdeeds.</p> <p>It appears to many that Bharara started this year by giving Cuomo and legislators an opportunity to reflect on the gravity of the Silver and Skelos convictions and actually get to work on real reforms. A number of insiders see Bharara's announcement in January that he did not have enough evidence to indict anyone on the untimely end of The Moreland Commission on Public Corruption as a way to take some pressure off of Cuomo to allow him to take the initiative on ethics in his State of the State address. Those same insiders see Bharara's visit as a nudge to Cuomo and legislative leaders to actually deliver on reforms this year.</p> <p>In his State of the State platform, Cuomo <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6087-cuomo-unveils-ethics-plan-to-questions-of-follow-through" target="_blank">announced his intentions</a> to see the LLC loophole closed, strict limits set on legislators' outside income, a public campaign finance system established, and <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6087-cuomo-unveils-ethics-plan-to-questions-of-follow-through" target="_blank">other changes</a> made to prevent corruption. Whether Bharara wades into any of those specifics is to be seen.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6087-cuomo-unveils-ethics-plan-to-questions-of-follow-through" target="_blank">Cuomo Announces Ethics Plan to Questions of Follow Through</a>]</p> <p>

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>