Legislators support corruption-reform efforts

Two area state legislators say they are saddened and embarrassed by recent scandals in Albany, but they are encouraged by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s efforts to take a leadership role.

“I think it’s truly sad and tragic that these people are actually breaking the law,” state Sen. Hugh T. Farley, R-Niskayuna, said Tuesday. “These legislators, they’re violating the law that’s already there.”

Recent state legislative scandals in Albany have involved bribery and influence peddling.

Democratic New York City state Sen. Malcolm Smith, a former Senate majority and minority leader, was arrested along with Republican New York City Councilman Dan Halloran and four others. Federal prosecutors say Smith allegedly offered Republican bosses bribes in order to get on their ballot for New York City mayor.

State Assemblyman Eric Stevenson, D-Bronx, also was arrested in a bribery investigation in which another state assemblyman, Bronx Democrat Nelson Castro, cooperated against him.

Stevenson and four businessmen were charged in part with conspiring to pass a bill in the state Legislature to protect a new Bronx adult center from competitors for three years to give the center a monopoly against other facilities that might want to offer meals, social activities and supervision for the elderly and disabled.

Farley, who represents the new 49th Senate District that includes all of Fulton and Hamilton counties as well as northern Herkimer County, eastern Schenectady County and western Saratoga County, said he’s glad Cuomo is staying on top of the corruption issue.

“I am certainly agreeable to see what the governor has to offer as far as passing new laws on ethics,” Farley said.

Cuomo, a Democrat, on Tuesday proposed the Public Trust Act, which would create a new class of public-corruption crimes and expand New York prosecutors’ ability to crack down on public corruption across the state.

A news release issued by the governor’s office said current laws defining public corruption in New York are obsolete and far less effective than federal statutes for prosecuting people who commit public-corruption crimes. The Public Trust Act would establish a new class of public-corruption crimes and expand the current definitions of public-corruption offenses to enable prosecutors to hold accountable those who violate public trust, the news release said. The law also would impose tougher jail sentences on people who misuse public funds and permanently bar those convicted of public-corruption offenses from holding any elected or civil office, lobbying, contracting, receiving state funding, or doing business with the state, directly or through an organization.

“It’s so sad that these criminals are painting the Legislature and decent public servants with a broad brush,” Farley said. “There’s so many that try to do the best they can and be honorable.”

The senator said he will work with the governor to “clear and clean up the image” of the state Legislature.

State Assemblyman Marc W. Butler, R-Newport, said Wednesday the scandals underscore a “cultural divide” between upstate state legislators and the downstate state legislators who are more prone to corruption. He said state legislators are supposed to serve according to certain “guidelines,” which most from upstate “would never think” of violating.

Butler, who said he has “not been offered anything” in the form of a bribe during his years of service, now represents the new 118th Assembly District. That district includes all of Fulton County, as well as Hamilton, St. Lawrence, Lewis, Herkimer and Oneida counties.

“I would say it’s embarrassing,” Butler said. “The notoriety the state Legislature is getting is truly embarrassing.”

He said he is glad Cuomo is taking a leadership role in this situation.

“The onus and the responsibility kind of comes on the guy in charge,” Butler said.

He also said the scandals reflect badly on the leadership of the Legislature, including the Assembly, where Democratic Speaker Sheldon Silver is in charge.

State Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk, D-Duanesburg, and state Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, both failed to return phone calls seeking comment for this story.

However, Santabarbara this morning emailed a prepared statement, which said, “There is no place for this kind of behavior in the Assembly or state government. Voters place their trust in elected officials to represent them and their communities. When that trust is broken, there should be strict consequences, which is why I support legislation that would forfeit the pensions of elected officials who are convicted of felonies related to their office. As elected officials, we must hold ourselves to the highest standards because hard-working New York families deserve nothing less.”

Santabarbara represents the 111th state Assembly District, which includes Montgomery, Albany and Schenectady counties.

Tkaczyk represents the newly formed 46th Senate District, which includes all of Montgomery and Greene counties and parts of Schenectady, Albany and Ulster counties.

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at [email protected].

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