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Golden Age of Graft

March 17, 2015

One speech does not a leader make. But Eric Schneiderman’s presentation yesterday at Citizen’s Union went a long way toward establishing him as a real force in Albany both now and in the future.

Schneiderman’s speech was better and more sophisticated than the New York Times portrayed. The Times wrote affirmatively, but missed nuance.

The Times said he expressed a “deeply pessimistic” view of Albany. The Times quoted him saying that Albany was “living in a golden age of graft.”

We heard something different. We heard Schneiderman saying that it might seem like Albany was living in the golden age of graft, but that it wasn’t so.

We heard Schneiderman make a sincere appeal to his former colleagues in the legislature to do something meaningful about the continuing portrayal of state government as the epicenter of corruption.

He was saying, in effect: “I know you’re not crooks, but you have to do something dramatic to change the perception that you are.” He also said that everyone in Albany ought to be part of the fix.

This is a lot different from the Cuomo approach. From the get-go of Moreland, Cuomo has always been way too enthusiastic in pointing the finger at lawmakers. He resisted any scrutiny of the executive, saying repeatedly that his administration wasn’t the problem.

He has kept at it, too. Before he’d had any meaningful discussions with leaders this year, he announced an ultimatum: “Do my ethics package or I’ll make the budget late.”

Behind the scenes at the mansion dinners Cuomo has been hosting for lawmakers, he’s softened his approach considerably, but he’s still insisting that ethics reform be his victory.

Schneiderman noted in his speech, however, that everybody who is part of the system ought to be part of the process of changing it. What he was really saying was that ethics reform isn’t one person’s “win” at all. It’s everyone’s.

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