So much for reform in the New York State Legislature

The Boss of the Bronx, Carl Heastie, is the new speaker of the New York State Assembly. All I can say is, “Oh brother, here we go again.” Much to the consternation of a reform caucus among the Democrats, the lightning-quick election turned out to result in the same old, same old brand of politics that has been practiced in that not-so-august body for years. Boss Heastie, who was the head of the Bronx Democratic Party, assumes power in a house beset with corruption problems. His major mentor is serving time in the can and I’m afraid that Heastie’s election signals really bad things. Instead of taking the opportunity to make much needed changes and let the antiseptic sunlight in, we are about to be treated to a number of half-baked so-called reforms which will just be more of the same.

The teeth of many members of the Assembly are already chattering. These denizens of the deep fear that the charges that have been lodged against Sheldon Silver will also be brought against them. Now that the Bronx Boss with a reputation for taking no prisoners is in charge, many of these same people are afraid that the new guy will be giving out chairmanship-sinecures based on who his friends and early supporters were. The so-called reformers called Heastie to a meeting and he obliged them by showing up. They had lots of question for the new guy and were assured by Heastie that he was not being investigated by the federal prosecutors. And he knows that how?

Into all of this rides the man on the white horse on his way to the White House, Gov. Andrew Cuomo. He says he wants to see a series of complete reforms including strict limits on outside income, stripping of the pensions of convicted felons and complete disclosure of all outside income. Cuomo is also saying that he doesn’t want legislators ripping off the so called “per diem” system, money that they get for showing up in Albany. Speaker Heastie, by the way, is the third largest recipient of such money. Cuomo, who raised $45 million in campaign funds, says that he wants absolute limits on what campaign monies can be used for. He wants limitations on the campaign laws which hide behind self-serving gimmicks like LLC’s. Very, very nice, Andrew, but why are we supposed to believe you?

Remember that this is the same Gov. Cuomo who, during his first campaign, promised to veto any anti-democratic apportionment plans that would allow the legislators to draw districts in which they had the best chance of winning. But when Cuomo became governor, he was quick to sign that disgraceful law as part of a so-called trade with the Legislature for doing their job and passing a budget. Then he set up a series of corruption-fighting entities that turned out to be toothless and accomplished very little. One such group, the New York State Commission on Public Ethics, or J-COPE, has been rechristened J-JOKE. Finally, he established a Moreland Act Commission to investigate corruption in New York, but when the Commission hounds picked up the scent (or should I say the stench), Cuomo, to the dismay of all, disbanded the Moreland Commission. So now, when he announces his non-negotiable demands for change — even if it holds up the budget — it’s hard to believe him. His record in this field just isn’t that good. There’s a rumor going around that people want Preet Bharara, the fighting U.S. attorney who has done so much to clean up Albany, to run for governor himself the next time out. Perhaps Cuomo has heard those same rumors. Cuomo’s problem, of course, is that while his newly found ideas are great, that no one really trusts him to make them happen.

The stink continues.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 2/9/15

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