On Wednesday afternoon, all eyes were on Gov. Cuomo’s “2015 Opportunity Agenda” – a presentation outlining his policy vision and financial plan for the coming year. By Thursday morning, that presentation was a distant memory.
The arrest of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver yesterday sent shockwaves through the Capitol and across the state. The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, has charged Silver with multiple counts of using his office and influence to obtain nearly $4 million in bribes and kickbacks.
When news of a federal investigation first surfaced last year, I called for the speaker to offer an explanation. As a result of his arrest and charges, I have called for his immediate resignation as speaker.
A DISTRACTION AND DISSERVICE TO THE PEOPLE OF NY
The arrest of the Assembly speaker casts a dark cloud over state government and it impacts all elected officials. This is exactly how and why voters become disenfranchised with the Democratic process and representative government. It hurts the institution of our state government.
Equally as upsetting is that Assembly business was completely shut down. While Thursday’s session activity was expected to be relatively light, it is troubling that the people’s business came to a screeching halt. Session was cancelled yesterday, marking a grave disservice to the men and women who send us to Albany. The Assembly cannot function properly with interruptions and distractions that prevent us from doing our jobs.
The vast majority of Assembly Democrats lined up to express their continued support for the speaker. They maintain the charges and federal investigation will not distract their conference or Mr. Silver in his role as speaker. I could not disagree more with their opinion.
PUTTING SUBSTANCE OVER SCANDAL
All Americans are afforded the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. The legal process will play out and the courts will decide the fate of Sheldon Silver. But we have a duty to taxpayers right now. New Yorkers need help and solutions on issues like education reform, property taxes, job-creation, public safety and dozens of other matters that demand our immediate attention.
As a legislative leader dedicated to solutions, I am renewing my call for the strongest anti-corruption laws drafted to date. In 2013 I introduced the Public Officers Accountability Act – a package of bills set to root out corruption in the state Legislature. I have reintroduced a modified version of the bill this year, which is focused on:
- Instituting eight-year term limits for legislative leaders and committee chairs;
- Requiring the return of campaign funds to donors or charity upon felony convictions;
- Replacing the separate investigative authorities with a new Commission on Official Conduct;
- Creating a new crime for failure to report corruption;
- Limiting use of campaign funds to campaign activities;
- Creating penalties for filing late campaign disclosure statements; and
- Reforming member items.
There is too much at stake for New York’s hard-working families for public officials to abuse their power when, instead, they should be working toward improving the quality of life of their constituents. As elected representatives we must do everything in our power to ensure that policy substance never again takes a back seat to political scandal.