Give prosecutors the resources they need

If you want to stop public corruption in New York, you have to keep it simple. Rule number one: make sure we know about every dime that our public officials earn outside of their public jobs That way we’ll know who is trying to bribe them, either legally or illegally. It’s not rocket science. Rule number two; give the power and money that Albany District Attorney David Soares and State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman need to effectively do their jobs.

We all know that the Legislature and the governor have starved the Albany DA’s office on purpose. By rights, Soares should have a fully funded public corruption unit in his office. He is the Cardinal of the state’s District Attorneys when it comes to corruption because the state’s pay checks come from Albany where he has jurisdiction. The starving of the Albany DA didn’t start with Soares — it’s been a long tradition. Let’s face it, if you were a legislator who liked to play it around the margins, would you give the DA the tools he needed to make things right? Soares, a thoroughly decent man, recently told me that things are getting worse. In the past, he had state troopers assigned to his office to help out in his investigations, but now these assets have been reassigned. Too bad, we all know that the state police have been used as political pawns by past governors and it would appear the same thing is happening once again.

We all know that Soares and Governor Cuomo are not the best of friends. Do you remember the “Occupy” demonstrations in Albany? Apparently, the governor wanted those legitimate protestors arrested and tried, but DA Soares said that the state had more important things to do than trying a bunch of activist kids. We hear that really ticked off the governor. So, sure as the rain, Soares got a primary opponent, a decent sort who Soares, with his loyal following in Albany County for his progressive approach to criminal justice, soundly beat. I don’t have to draw you a picture of who put the primary challenger up, do I?

In the meantime, the U.S. Attorney, Preet Bharara, has been leading quite the charge against corruption and sending a lot of people to jail. This gets us wondering whether state officials give a free ride to public official crooks. As a result, a bit of a jurisdictional fight has broken out in which the former Attorney General, Andrew Cuomo, and the present Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman, are duking it out for new powers to combat public corruption. Cuomo is asking for yet another agency, appointed by himself, to chase down the crooks. In the past, Cuomo had promised that the Attorney General (Schneiderman) would have increased powers in this area. Indeed, Cuomo is proud of his own work prosecuting political wrongdoers when he was attorney general. But now, he appears to want that power for himself at Schneiderman’s expense. For his part, Albany District Attorney Soares makes it clear that the last thing we need is yet another “alphabet” group that will do little or nothing. He knows, as do we, that if the DA gets the resources to track these people down, the job will get done.

Look, we don’t need any more do-nothing leeches on the payroll. We know what to do but the folks at the top just don’t want to do it. Why should they? On the contrary, they want to make it seem like they are doing something without really doing anything. There are already people in place who, with a little more authority, could get the job done. Give Soares what he needs, give Attorney General Schneiderman what he needs and let him work with Comptroller Tom DiNapoli to find and prosecute the evil doers.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 4/22/13

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