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The Week Ahead

May 3, 2015

What does one say in a situation like this? A dramatic event is about to occur. It’s going to change things. It’s going to be disruptive. It will be sad on one level and frustrating on another.

The key thing to remember is that life goes on. It always does. Moreover, we’ve been in this situation before. Each time, there was a shocking moment, but then we all got over it and carried on.

Consider the history: Fred Ohrenstein; Mel Miller; Joe Bruno; Shelly Silver; and now, Dean Skelos. All got in trouble with authorities. The trouble (with the possible exception of Miller) had to do with the office they held. And interestingly, all (to the extent that the cases have been resolved) were later cleared.

In 1987, Ohrenstein, minority leader of the Senate, was incited on 564 counts of conspiracy and grand larceny. He was accused of using public money to pay for campaign workers, and for allowing legislative staffers to work full time on campaigns.  Despite the indictment, Orhenstein was easily re-elected and continued to serve as minority leader. In 1990, the Court of Appeals dismissed 455 of the counts against him. In 1991, the rest of the case was dismissed.

That same year, Miller was convicted of eight felony counts. It was said that in his outside business, a law firm, he cheated clients out of profits from investments in coop apartments. He immediately lost his position and seat in the Assembly, but the whole case was later overturned on appeal.

In 2008, Bruno chose not to run for reelection, but a short while later he was indicted on eight counts of official corruption involving private business deals. He was convicted of two of the counts. Those “honest service” convictions were overturned on appeal. He was retried and found innocent.

Lest we forget, Silver was indicted in January.  It involves outside business activities for which he was compensated, but may not have done real work and may not have properly disclosed on his required ethics filings. The original indictment was added a couple of weeks ago after Silver pushed back against the prosecutor. The new charges alleged that he also made improper investments. The case is not regarded as a slam dunk.

To this list we could also add former Senate Majority Leaders Malcolm Smith and John Sampson. Smith was convicted in a bizarre party nomination scheme.  Sampson was indicted for embezzlement involved in foreclosed homes.  These cases were brought after they were no longer leaders.

None of this is to suggest that the Feds ought not to do their thing. Indeed, although we’ve been skeptical of prosecutorial tactics and strategy and indeed the merits of some of the cases (like Libous) we also hold to the notion of survival of the impeccable, inscrutable and super cautious.

Now Skelos. There’s a fascinating dynamic at play in Albany right now. Many people, including Republicans, are “hoping” that the pending indictment is really substantive. They are “hoping” that Skelos really did something awful, terrible. If he didn’t, if he only made a call on behalf of his son that was without coercion and was in fact friendly and fatherly, and he gets indicted for it, then it’s truly more of a crisis for the institution. That’s because just about everyone has made a similar call and the Feds would be criminalizing the way Albany or any state capital works.

We, too, hope the indictment is for conduct that is truly egregious. If it’s not, there’s likely to be a lot of second-guessing.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    May 6, 2015 3:07 PM

    Nobody who got off was clean. They were all involved in tawdry stuff and that’s putting it mildly.

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