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What is the State of the State?

January 22, 2015

We had the sense yesterday that the Governor and state government overall had turned a corner. Here was Cuomo in his State of the State/Executive Budget presentation letting everyone know that he hadn’t run out of gas. Not at all.  He was full of ideas and more energetic than ever. He outlined dozens of initiatives – all sound. They were actually numbered 1 through 63 in a news release by his office.

The unspoken subtext of this presentation was that it was finally time to move past Moreland and get back to work on issues and policy. We were going to have an exciting, issue-packed start to the new session.

And then we all woke up this morning and read the papers. And then we all read the court filings. And then we watched Preet. So much for getting back to issues and policy.

Now it’s possible that Silver mounts a strong defense against the charges. It’s possible that Preet is adding two and two and getting more than four. For example, Silver is supposed to have engaged in a quid pro quo with a doctor.  It’s said that almost ten years ago he engineered two 250k grants to the doctor. But what if those grants were innocent? What if they went to the doctor’s hospital and it was used for medical research or some other wholly affirmative purpose?

Preet also made a big deal about the fact that Silver sponsored an Assembly resolution on behalf of the doctor. When Preet noted this fact, his people were all nodding their heads in agreement as if this was some kind of smoking gun. But that’s just silly. Everyone truly familiar with state government knows that resolutions are a nice thing to do – not for your cohorts in crime – but for people back home who are doing good work.

With regard to the two developers, the supposed quid pro quo was legislation in which Silver had a role in advancing. Again, the details matter. Was it a bill that benefitted the developers specifically? Or was it legislation that affected all developers?

It’s apparent that the prosecutors don’t know state government all that well. They have a vision of how it’s corrupt, and perhaps they are seeing what they want to see in reviewing the facts.

All of that said, the complaint in this case is a lot tighter than in the Bruno case. The fact pattern is clearer. There’s the matter of several cooperating witnesses.  And finally, there’s what we all know about the lawyer-legislator game. Law firms love to have “rainmaker” lawmakers in an “of counsel” role. The perception is that the law firm is wired. A lot of clients think that by hiring the firm their issue will be taken care of.  A lot of legal business is generated in this way.

This practice has been going on forever, but, as everyone knows, that fact doesn’t make it right.

At some fundamental level, Preet’s action today is aimed at this common relationship. Yes, he couched it as a public corruption case, but when he talked about Silver having “monetized” his office, he’s setting a precedent for lawyer-legislators all across the nation. Think state houses everywhere. Think Congress.

When you consider the broader ramifications, it’s a really impressive and ballsy thing for Preet to do. At one level we admire that. On another level, though, all we can say is” Ugh. Here we go again.”

Yesterday, Cuomo, answering his own question about the true state of the state, said: “We’re back.” He meant it to mean that the state was on the right path and making substantial progress.

Today the answer to that question is: “Preet’s back.”

As a result, the functioning of the Assembly, the Governor’s Opportunity Agenda, an on time budget, and everything else is quite uncertain now.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    January 22, 2015 8:32 PM

    You write: “For example, Silver is supposed to have engaged in a quid pro quo with a doctor. It’s said that almost ten years ago he engineered two 250k grants to the doctor. But what if those grants were innocent? What if they went to the doctor’s hospital and it was used for medical research or some other wholly affirmative purpose?”

    You’re letting sentimentality cloud your judgment here. If, as the complaint alleges, Silver had a business relationship with the doctor from which Silver was materially benefitting, legally it matters not a whit whether the doctor’s research was good, bad or indifferent.

    One might add that nothing precludes a thief from being a philanthropist. Just ask the institutions that had to remove Ivan Boesky’s name from their buildings.

    • January 23, 2015 2:28 PM

      Dear Anon:

      If the grants went to the hospital and not to the doctor, it’s at least theoretically possible that this wasn’t a quid pro quo. That’s what we’re trying to say.

      In this regard, the two grants apparently went to Columbia Pres and apparently were used to support medical research. Does that benefit the doctor? Only indirectly in the same sense that anti-cancer research might benefit us all one day.

      If that’s the way it actually went down, is that really corrupt? Again, isn’t it at least theoretically possible that this wasn’t a gross, blatant, putrid quid pro quo? Silver arranges for the state to buy for the hospital a spectral megatomatron that can be used to diagnose blood cancers that only affect Ashkanazis. Maybe he did that because the doctor told him it was a big problem. Or maybe he did that because someone he knew was afflicted. Is it really untoward?

      Also, if you think about it, if you were greasing it, if you were in a secret and corrupt relationship with someone, would you pay him off with a research grant to the institution where he has residency rights? And again, if you really had a creepy and clandestine thing going would you sponsor a goofy Assembly resolution commending the individual as a salt-of-the-earth guy?

      Alas, it may be as you suggest – sentimentality, or something like it, is influencing us.

      It’s not a love of Silver exactly, just a kind of sadness and disappointment that this all has to happen … again and again.

      And it’s another thing, it’s a kind of stubborn, hope-against-hope attitude. We’re not alone in that predilection:

      Mario Cuomo, when confronted with the shocking news of Sol Wachtler’s wackiness said adamantly: “I don’t want to believe the worst and I’m not going to. I know him as an extraordinarily gifted individual, a brilliant mind, and according to the spirit and letter of the law I’m going to presume him innocent until proven otherwise. In fact, I’m going to think about all the ways this might be explainable.”

      Stubbornly,

      NT2

  2. B Sarbane permalink
    January 23, 2015 1:38 AM

    I read the 35 page Complaint. Its two sets of allegations need to be proven in court, but the 1st scheme involving the doctor seems to create a pretty clear quid pro quo arrangement under which the doctor got State grants and Silver’s law firm got legal work from the doctor’s patients, after which Silver got a piece of the action. It may be illegal, but I don’t see the average citizen getting too worked about it. People have come to accept a certain level of corruption in politics and the average person will likely think “eh, another backroom deal”.

    The second scheme, however, is different, because it involves letting rich developers get huge tax breaks (we’re talking $millions) in exchange for $millions of campaign contributions and personal enrichment. This one could go to the Governor’s office and the GOP Senate, if one or more of the real estate guys turns state’s evidence and starts talking about their expectations. Cuomo didn’t amass $40 million in campaign contributions because those developers liked his charming personality – those businessmen give when they expect to get back. The Complaint lays out a story that Silver and his campaign committees benefited from the quid pro quo — the question will be whether Cuomo and Schneiderman, the two guys who set up the Moreland Commission, and then closed it down, are in on the scheme.

  3. Anonymous permalink
    January 23, 2015 4:15 PM

    You write: “In this regard, the two grants apparently went to Columbia Pres and apparently were used to support medical research. Does that benefit the doctor? Only indirectly in the same sense that anti-cancer research might benefit us all one day.”

    This displays a basic ignorance of doctors’ relationships with hospitals. Doctors are nowhere without the the grant money they bring in to the institution. If they’re big shots, they’re expected to make hay for their research labs via grants, just like rainmaker lawyers make hay for their firms. Their status and often their livelihood depend on it. Your argument might hold some water if the grants went to research unrelated to what Dr. Taub did. But apparently they were exactly related to his field — supposedly, they were earmarked for research on 9/11-related illnesses. 9/11-related illnesses means the lung diseases people got from inhaling all that ASBESTOS that was liberated when the towers went down.

    And why was there supposedly no press release announcing the grant? From a political communications point of view, that’s malpractice. Every pol I know crows when he delivers $500K to a hospital — or even $500 to a hospital! — especially for anything related to 9/11. After 9/11, Shelly had pins made that said “NYS Assembly: Remembering Our Heroes.” I have one that he gave me.

    This appears to be a prima facie conflict of interest. Sorry.

  4. January 24, 2015 1:56 PM

    What do voters in NYS have to do to get a little honest gov’t? It starts with prosecuting Silver and ends with prosecuting Gov. Cuomo. Stay tuned…. Mike Flynn ‘Middle Class Mike’

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