After Skelos and Silver, How to Save Albany

New York’s political system is corrupt. To fix it, we need a full-time Legislature.

Comments: 99

  1. New Yorkers may deserve no less, but New Yorkers, as a general matter, have rarely cared less.

    The convictions of Silver and Skelos, though, like Bruno’s and those of others that may be appealed, are stark reminders that Albany is a cesspool that the entire state has known about since the 18th Century days of George Clinton – and has done precious little about. The legal antics of the past few years have been instructive – the number of notable corruption cases, almost all resulting in prison time for state senators and assemblymen, number 16 just since 1986.

    There are some who would criticize the author’s advice that the NYS legislature become a full-time body, claiming that the worthies who serve there shouldn’t be given even MORE time and opportunity to steal; but it’s all really moot, anyhow.

    I’ve been hearing regular complaints about the corruption and dysfunction in Albany for almost 40 years since I came to NYC from the West Coast to start a life. Precious little has ever been done about either, primarily because downstate New Yorkers are notorious for being cynically dismissive of the state legislature and accepting of its corruption and ineffectiveness as sources of light entertainment.

    What I see is a period of intense introspection, then eventual return of New York to the pantheon of state corruption that includes New Jersey, Louisiana and Illinois. Don’t hold your collective breath for this to change while anyone reading this comment remains vertical.

  2. The solution is patent: term limits, closing any revolving doors and a "cooling off" period before entering the slimy profession of influence peddling (otherwise known as lobbying).

  3. Ronald,
    Well said ! Too bad nobody is listening or cares enough to vote the ''Bums '' out.

  4. Brilliant! Especially coming from a member of the legislature. Two more things on my wish list: legislators need to serve no more than 2, 4-year terms. (The current system of unlimited 2-year terms puts the legislators in perpetual campaign mode which is distracting and corrupting); and close the LLC loophole (Glenwood counsel's testimony was appalling).

  5. Full time legislators will just breed full time crooks. It's funny (actually more sad) that you cite congress as an example as how to do things. Term limits, and end to member items, 100% zero tolerance audits and stiff mandatory prison sentences for public corruption are what we need. I know you will say that things won't get done without the wheeling and dealing. But, we've tried it that way in this country for too long and we are stuck with a disappearing middle class, $17 trillion in debt, public officials and fat cats that steal with impunity. Lets give honesty a chance even if we have to force it on them.

  6. Agree that full-time jobs would just give the corrupt more time to do what they do. As JAF suggests maybe a way to reduce the problem is to have much more rigorous review of the legislature but not sure by whom. Certainly can't be by any group the governor or legislature appoints/controls.

    How bout FBI agents assigned to shadow each state official? 24x7?

  7. We need to send Greens and Libertarians to Albany to shake things up. The bipartisan, SYSTEMIC Democrat-Republican corruption in Albany is not going to be solved by replacing them with... more Democrats and Republicans. Lots of great ideas in this column and comments but the current foxes aren't going to relinquish control of the henhouse of their own free will. We voters have to do it for them.

  8. Ethnics reform will not happen. Nothing in Albany will change because nobody in power wants it to change. Full time legislators will make no difference.

    Does anybody actually believe the Moreland Commission was going to be allowed to do its job ? Not is a million years. It was all for show, and shut down by Governor Cuomo the moment it stated to get serious.

  9. Does anyone else feel the press has a roll to play here? By my lights NY State politics is one of the many areas the Times largely ignores. Of course if there is scandal brewing they are on it.I know the same is true to a large extent in the state I live in. So does the citizen voter tax payer have a responsibility to stay informed?

  10. Good suggestions. Perhaps they will be taken seriously after the third man in the Albany Triumvirate is indicted. Sunlight has yet to shine on Cuomo, LPCiminelli, and the Buffalo Billion project.

  11. Solve bad government with more government. Yep. Makes sense.

  12. As a lawyer, I observe that my able and former colleague in the practice of law, Chuck Lavine, offers a refreshing start to how we might dismantle a corrupt culture. The transparency he suggests would go a long way toward restoring the public's confidence in how the New York State legislature spends and allocates public money. I offer an equally important suggestion--let's sharply limit the number of terms that a state legislator may serve in New York. Silver served 11 terms in the Assembly; Skelos served 16 in the Senate. That kind of political longevity permits power to grow unchecked, breeds arrogance and allows unsavory relationships to flourish. Let's put an end to it.

  13. How to save Albany???!!! What? Just finish the job. And don't forget the State Judiciary. In order to achieve any progress, these prosecutions needed to go to the Federal Court System where Silver and Skelos and Co could not orchestrate the outcome. No, don't "save" it. Start anew.

  14. NO. What you need is term limits to prevent the accumulation of power and the corruption that goes along with it. The voters of New York should also make a statement by turning out anyone who's been in Albany for more than a decade. Every civic group in the state should be pushing for this.

  15. Term limits enable the accumulation of power by lobbyists, who will more easily bamboozle the thoroughly inexperienced legislatures created by term limits. I’d rather have power in the hands of legislators whose performance I can review and pass judgment on at election time.

    — Brian

  16. True reform is unlikely to occur as long is it's entirely dependent on those in power voting against their own self-interest. The only realistic opportunity to create a better system that provides for New Yorkers' participation in and effective oversight of their government will come, as it does only once every twenty years, in 2017, when New Yorkers must call a constitutional convention. Organizing to elect lowercase d democratic delegates to that convention (and to make those elections as open them as possible) can't start soon enough.

  17. As the foul stench of corruption wafts over New York State, will the sweet smell of decency arrive in it's wake? Sorry ladies and gentlemen but while I applaud the conviction of Sheldon Silver and ESPECIALLY Dean and Adam Skelos, I haven't seen one concrete proposal get put forward from Albany that would correct the corrupt culture that has been part of New York State politics, not for decades but for centuries. Go back to the very beginning and research the history of the founding fathers of New York State - it's not a pretty picture. Without Preet Bhara and the US Attorney's Office, these men would still be AT THE HEAD OF OUR STATE GOVERNMENT. Where are the editorials urging New Yorkers to MARCH on Albany and demand some concrete changes? Cuomo was let off the hook for his disbanding of the commission that HE created to report on corruption - what an utter disgrace. Does anyone really think that Albany can be trusted to correct it's own abuses? Will Carl Heastie of all people set an example for good government? It's all quite sad and, alas, I don't see any lasting changes coming to Albany because of these recent convictions.

  18. I ran an office of door-to-door campaigners who educated citizens about the need to change the way we elected our town board members in Brookhaven Town (which was called Crookhaven back then) almost twenty years ago. We got a referendum on the ballot to do away with at-large voting (very expensive to win a seat in the second largest town in the country) and replace it with district voting (allowed regular people to do their own door-to-door campaigning for office). I went on to graduate from Hofstra Law and was awarded special recognition for my study of municipal law. I am hopeful that the latest state of affairs will finally wake the people up and lay the groundwork for some serious citizen activism. There needs to be a focus on re-building the very foundation of our democracy in this state. Anyone up for a Constitutional Convention?

  19. Well Gee let's see if I have the correct. A part time organization is corrupt and the solution is to have full time corrupt individuals. Seems idiotic to me, the issue is the corrupt nature of those elected, not the amount of time they have to be corrupt. Elect me and you will have no issues!!!

  20. Yeah, great idea! Full time legislators have eradicated corruption at the federal level! The US Congress is a clean as a whistle!

  21. I knew Charles "Chuck" Lavine when he practiced law as a very able and professional - always a gentleman - criminal trial attorney. I was sorry to see him leave for Albany, but at the same time I realized that the court system 's loss would be the legislature's gain. The last two weeks, besmirched by the convictions of Silver and Shelos, cry out for ethics reform in Albany. Lavine's ideas are solid and much needed, especially about changing the job description to full time. Let's hope that with a push from the governor, some or all of them will be implemented.

    Ira Hofher

  22. Unfortunately, corruption is imbedded in the system and can be difficult to clean up even by a zealous federal prosecutor. Only overwhelming moral conviction among voters can make a difference. It is a weakness of the democratic system that we like to flaunt to the world that only a few grasp the importance of integrity in government. Or believe it to be possible.
    Our system solicits the self-interested, and we vote them in.

  23. New York City is a City-State. Break away then develop.

  24. Now that the former leaders of both houses of our New York Legislature have been found guilty of corruption and related charges, -- and they join former "stars" of several other states -- one hears a question from an increasing number of people: Why should people respect, abide by, or even pay attention to, State laws governing their lives?

    Let's forget the fiction that we are a conglomerate of fifty "independent" states and accept that in the 21st century our system is largely obsolete.

    We are one country and should have one central legal system. It might not stamp out corruption but at least it will bring a much needed uniformity and clarity to the governing of the country.

    Times have changed since 1776. It took about two-three weeks to send a letter from Boston to Virginia, whereas now an e-mail gets there in seconds. In 1776, over 90% of the people were engaged in some form of agriculture, whereas now it is less than 5%.

  25. What are horrible suggestion! As if the dysfunctional Federal government run by a partisan Congress and imperial President would be so much better than the petty-ante crooks in most of our State Houses! The current Federal system is still vastly better than a centralized, humongous national government.

  26. All good suggestions Mr. Lavine, but it is infantile to think that public servants are or ever were altruists. As a citizen, expect that rank and file politicians have mixed motives and that there be some amount of corruption. Not that it should be tolerated, but I just think that it's part of any political system and no amount of reform will be able to reform the nature of human beings.

    Hardly a new low.

  27. While I'm in general in favor of this proposition, the devil's in the details.

    Here in California we had a part-time legislature into the '60s and yes, a great deal of corruption. The full-time bicameral legislature seemed to work well for awhile, but was prone to being captured by hyper-powerful speakers, especially in the Assembly. Nobody went to jail, but they should have.

    The "cure" was term limits, but the limits were set so short that new legislators didn't have enough time to develop the expertise they should have, and too much power devolved to lobbyists and certain long-time senior legislative staffers. Did I mention that a full-time lobbying industry developed in Sacramento? Money always finds a way in.

    Once again California twiddled the rules by allowing somewhat more generous term limits and also, against the legislature's will, enacting by public vote a system of reapportionment which takes control of legislative boundaries out of the hands of legislators. They no longer are able to pick their own voters.

    The jury is out on both these innovations; we'll hope for the best. But again -- money always wants to find a way in.

  28. How does paying these folks a full-time salary help?

    All of our US Senators and Congresspeople get full-time salaries - and far better health benefits than most of us - but their pay pales in comparison with:

    > The cost of living in DC - to the point where we have Congresspeople sleeping in their offices or dormitories, and making it sound like the new normal

    > The perqs they implicitly command, from lobbyists, for their time and attention. These can be bank shots, a la Skelos & Son Inc., or travel at a level of spend/opulence way beyond their personal means

    > Their value as lobbyists, following their careers. A typical US President can easily make 50X their salary, following their retirement. So can Senators and Congresspeople

    The Chief Justice of the United States (population 325,000,000) makes $250K per year.

    Singapore's (population 5,000,000) highest-ranking judge earned almost fifty percent more, as of twenty years ago. Their (non-public) salary is now several times that.

    Our ostensible revolving-door limitations are a ridiculous joke, like our ostensible campaign contribution limitations.

    They not only don't work - they allow our politicians to spend a significant amount of their time pretending to "fight for us".

    Fight with whom?

    I'd rather you worked for me, than fought for me.

    Of all the stupid wars we're now in debt for, the long-standing one in DC is the worst.

  29. We don't need full-time legislators. We don't need legislators who believe their main function is to go along with what their constituents want. If their constituents are farmers, they'll cut taxes on farms to win votes. If their constituents are homeowners, they'll cut property taxes. If their constituents are teachers, they'll do what teachers want. And, if their constituents are wealthy, they'll do whatever they want. Wrong, wrong, and wrong!

    I would do what's right, and that's to improve all aspects of our great and beautiful state. Our roads and bridges are terrible! Fix them! Many of our schools are failing our poorer students at a time in history when most kids need at least two years of college.

    As a teacher for 50 years I know this is true; we must have the same high expectations for ALL kids as we do for our own kids. And gun crime is too prevalent and too dangerous. We must get dangerous handguns (especially) off our streets, and we must realize that the NRA is a powerful company, but we parents and grandparents are even more powerful, if we choose to be. Keep a gun at home to protect your family, but don't bring it on to the streets. I will fight (not just talk) about keeping people safe on our streets.

    I'm not rich, but I do own my own home. What I care about most is giving kids a chance to develop the skills and attitudes they need to be successful and happy in life.

    It doesn't take full-time work to do this, if you're SERIOUS about the job.

  30. A full-time legislature would end corruption? Ask folks in Illinois--the fifth-largest state--how that's worked out.

  31. It's just a matter of degree. The part time legislators who work full time and put the interests of their businesses are not that different from the revolving door where the full time legislators go into private industry and work for the people the previously regulated.
    When was the last time a corrupt state government was reformed?

  32. Mr. Lavine means well and has talked a good game about state ethics in recent years, but, frankly, the situation has gone well beyond his recommended reforms. Only the Justice Department can clean up the Albany mess. We cannot trust anyone at the state level or below to make things right.

    Heck, here on Long Island, no one trusts the local authorities. In Suffolk County, the district attorney is highly suspect and many scratch their heads as to why he has not been more aggressive in a variety of serious cases. In Nassau County, the former DA was a member of the Moreland Commission and she uttered not a peep about its dissolution, probably because it would have gotten in the way of her eventual election to Congress. Oh, and while she served as DA, a whistleblower went to her office with strong evidence of corruption in town government. He was rebuffed, only to be later welcomed by the FBI, which now has a full investigation underway.

    Mr. Lavine is very familiar with Albany and Long Island, so he probably has a pretty good handle on how far corruption may extend in this region. He should know better than to think that his "reforms" can be carried out by the current cast of characters in state government. Sorry, Charlie, but only the feds will do.

  33. Governor Cuomo, also benefitted from the '' old guard '' key legislation was passed , in some cases without due process. I hope the former '' Power Mongers'' enjoy life with out power they once held. It must feel great to be a Little Person again. No tears are necessary, they can afford to live well.

  34. It's a joyous event, the demise of Silver and Skelos. And so, so very long in coming.

  35. Since most of their time is spent representing the interests of Chinese embezzlers, Russian oligarchs and Saudi harems, why not just move the Legislature to the offices of REBNY and cut out the middlemen? It would pay for itself in travel expenses alone.

  36. We need a new governor. Fought ethics reform. Fought improvements to rent stabilization laws. He's on the wrong side of history here... and that might be putting it politely.

  37. Mr Lavine has only started the game with a kick-off. Now it is up to the Governor, legislators and we, the people, to make certain that reform takes place ASAP. If our elected officials refuse to act, let's replace them with men and women who will take action. It is up to us to make certain that reform takes place.

  38. In my opinion, especially in New York State, a full time legislature would simply mean full time corruption, fully insulated, and protected.

    There are few people, these days, in any State, who believe that enduring reform will ever occur.

    Every few decades a few are sacrificed to protect the many.

    What we really need are at least 100 U. S. Attorneys like Preet Bharara, to go to work, in every State, and take down the hundreds of wholly corrupt public officials, who now use government office to enrich themselves and their cronies, at the expense of the citizenry.

    Boss Tweed and Tammany Hall politics are fully woven into the American political system; to believe otherwise is foolhardy.

  39. Toss the Dems out. That'll make a good start. Try a different bunch, and if they mess up, try a third bunch. You may get unfamiliar names but it couldn't be any worse than what you put up with now.

  40. I agree, but that means the people need to use their vote, wisely, which I believe is almost impossible given the massive perception management programs currently employed to cause them to vote against their own interests.

    The mainstream media and it's support of whomever caters to their interests, is the largest practitioner of perception management.

  41. Four year terms will not lessen corruption in Albany. It hasn't lessened corruption in other states, and it won't in New York. We need term limits, we need an end to pension eligibility for convicted criminals, and more than anything, we need voters who will get their collective heads out of the sand and throw everyone in Albany out, including you Mr. Lavine.

  42. I have a saying I coined that isn’t very clever but one that I’ll repeat anyway. I said it to my father many years ago when I asked him why he was voting for a state legislator in a capital where corruption was common. OK, here’s the saying: Vote for the challenger, not the incompetent. Get it, incompetent, not incumbent.
    Well, I don’t know if he took my advice. Certainly, very few felt as I did because Bill Larkin, a state senator from Orange County, is still in office all these years later. The same can be said for the state legislators I voted against when I moved to Long Island as well as those in Manhattan who I am currently voting against. Republican or Democrat doesn’t matter to me. It doesn’t matter if I agree or disagree with them.
    Truly, I don’t know if Mr. Larkin is an incompetent, or any of the others I’ve voted against. I simply know that they, like so many of their colleagues, are still in Albany as if it were their birthright and because of that they are complicit in all the hanky-panky that goes on and on and on.
    For that reason alone they should be turned out. I’m not naïve enough to believe that a roomful of new legislators will turn things around.
    I do believe that if the challengers pledge to reforms as suggested by Mr. Lavine that someday, maybe someday, I will vote for an incumbent.

  43. A few thoughts:
    Would full time legislators be expected to keep second homes in Albany? or be paid travel expenses(weekly?) to visit their families/constituents?
    Term limits, 12 years with ban on revolving door/lobbying sound about right?
    Automatic voter registration at age 18 at DMV, high school, or college.
    Nonpartisan, preferably computer algorithm generated redistricting imposed asap, the latest having been done under tainted leadership.
    Public financing of elections based on NYC system, with LLC and spending caps on candidates who opt out of the public option.
    Doubtless, many current state employees and legislators could add or amend other suggestions; but now is the time for Governor Cuomo and the new leadership to institute sweeping sunshine reforms for the good of all New Yorkers.

  44. Yes term limits - 8 years for the Assembly as well as all the local governments, 6 terms for congressmen and two terms as senator.
    Make the assembly full time and last, but not least, dump Cuomo.

  45. Lavine's suggestions are just a start. Ban outside income for legislators beyond $6,000 / year. Eliminate LLC campaign donations (another NY Times article today revealed that the real estate firm at the center of the Skelos trial gave $10MM in political donations or rather graft $ through LLCs). Install immediate term-limits for both individual legislators and leaders of the senate and assembly. Eliminate the "3 men in a room" power structure. I used to say NY State government exists in a swamp. I was wrong. It operates in a cess pool.

    Finally, this last suggestion does not entail changing any laws: Why on earth did state incumbents in my district (Manhattan) run completely unopposed in '14? Even if winning is a long-shot, both political parties - even 3rd party candidates - would have given voters a choice re: who to send to Albany.

  46. There are so many absolutely venal elements to our NYS government below the top level of the Governor and the Legislature that it boggles the mind:

    > Pensions and health care benefits. NYS elected officials and public employees work hand in glove to enhance and embellish a pension system and health care benefits that would drive a private company out of business.
    > Civil Service. A sham civil service system covers over that NYS government offices are chock full of employees who are connected to elected officials and other high level state officials. The nepotism and cronyism is endemic.
    > Incompetence. Given the number of friends and family working for NYS, the productivity and competence of NYS employees is absolutely abysmal.
    > Contracts. As a result of its inability to perform basic government functions, NYS contracts out for so many services that at prices that are often bloated and wasteful - except when compared to if the work was done by NYS employees.

    As long as the robust economy of downstate keeps going and the people in the hinterlands of Albany are kept in check with gold plated services and pay for schools and health care while the private sector languishes away, Albany will continue to stay securely affixed to the taxpayers like a parasitic ghoul.

  47. The New York State Constitution allows for a referendum by voters every twenty years to re-write any aspect of the Constitution itself. The next twenty year cycle culminates very soon - in the year 2017.

    The reforms Mr. Lavine advocates could be realized by the voters of New York State without the permission of the corrupt politicians themselves. Will we let this opportunity pass us by?

  48. Since legislative districts must be apportioned equally, is there any use to having a legislature composed of two chambers? Is there any •good• reason New York (and other states) should not adopt a unicameral legislature?

    — Brian

  49. Charles Lavine's prescription for the NY legislature is touching in its good intentions but likely merely to substitute another form of political excess for the corruption we now have. NY is already the most over-regulated and incompetently regulated state between here and the left coast and a full time legislature will greatly exacerbate the problem. Politicians with time on their hands are even more dangerous than those with a hand in your pocket. The situation reminds one of the infamous Louisiana bumper sticker from Edwin Edwards' last run for the governorship in 1991, against the racist David Duke: "Vote for the crook, it's important".

  50. A full time legislature would make no difference if we continue to elect criminals.

    The public elects the worst element, and few good people run for office in America.

    We have terrible leadership. Politicians are seen as second hand car salesmen and vacuum cleaner salesmen.

    Disclosure will help, but the main concern is who runs and why the best do not run.

    Well, civic responsibility is not fashionable. The part time elected officeholder was the model when all men farmed. Few farm today. But most legislators practice law. We know what we think of most lawyers.

    So, it starts with who runs. When lawyers run government part time and practice law full time, we have a mess.

    Can we return civic responsibility to a high place in our culture? Must these jobs become full-time sinecures for the lawyers with nothing else to do?

    Not the answer - in my book.

    Let the citizenry meet for a constitutional convention and debate al this. Let's start over... and design a system that attracts the best, not the worst. Put civics back into the curriculum of our schools, encourage civic participation for all.

    Start there.

  51. If you want good people to run for office, you must allow them to sue for libel and slander if others say false things about them. Thomas Jefferson invented the campaign based on lies and falsehood against John Adams, so it goes all the way back to the early days of the Republic. Likewise, the first congress elected in 1788 already had gerrymandered districts, although the word had not yet been invented. Other nations allow limits on lies in campaigns without losing democracy. We can, too. It would take an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and that would be unlikely to pass.

  52. How about randomizing appointments drawing from all New Yorkers subject to a basic literacy and writing and current event test. Randomize every four years and don't let them "homestead." Don't allow real estate executives or lawyers in the randomization pool. Simple laymen are good enough for juries with decisions over life and death or complex financial crime issues with derivatives and other matters......why not more mundane decisions like the budget?

  53. What to do to save Albany?
    Well,
    What makes Rite-Aid try new products that the other guys don't have yet?
    What makes Ford put electronics in cars that some others don't?
    Competition! of course.

    Therefore, if New Yorkers actually give a rip about clean government, they will start voting for other parties besides the same old crooked bunch that they already don't trust. You might even start building up the tax base by encouraging business growth if you fix your state government.

    Plus, you'll have the extra enjoyment of watching NY Times-ers have strokes because of it.

  54. Bring back the Moreland commission. Governor Cuomo is part of the problem and may end up as disgraced as his former colleagues unless he begins to lead by example in the clean up of Albany.

  55. The idea that politicians, like Lavine, will fix there own corrupt system is totally delusional. Furthermore, the idea that the electorate will do the same tells you 'stupidness' is alive and well. Corruption and politics go together, always has, always will. Wise up.

  56. The present system in Albany has been so bad for so long that the only answer is to blow it up and start ftom scratch. The next state constitutional convention should replace the Assembly and Senate with a unicameral legislature like Nebraska's. Add to that sensible term limits, campaign finance reform, and an independent body for redistricting and our chance for honest and efficient state government would greatly improve.

  57. What drives these people to do the things they do?

  58. As Bill Clinton said, when asked a similar question about his affair with Lewinsky, the President of the United States answered - "I think I did something for the worst possible reason -- just because I could".

    And that is the reason corruption exists in nearly all government agencies, simply because they have been engaged in it for eons, and because they can.

    "We the willfully stupid people", allow them to use the office we elect them to, to use and abuse us.

    Wake up, please !!!

  59. I suggest that the RICO statutes be used to attack political racketeering in several states and cities. Showing politicians that is not difficult to confiscate their and their family's assets and send them to jail might un-lubricate and cause them to fall apart. RICO destroyed the Mafia. It can destroy the political rackets that have dominated New York State politics.

  60. How about having Bharara taking over the Moreland Commission without any interference from the governor's office and issuing a set of recommendations. Would that help restore public confidence?

  61. Yes, but it won't happen. Cuomo had his chance and shut it down once. With the flames growing ever closer to him, he will do everything in his power to deflect attention to others, including giving lip service to those reforms that he and the other crooks will still violate. Every one of them who didn't speak publicly about the disgusting actions of their leaders is complicit and needs to be removed from office.

  62. Political corruption is everywhere, not just Albany. National, state and local, this is what happens when you legalize bribery. Term limits will change nothing, the old crooks will simply be replaced with new crooks. The entire political system is rotten to its core and stinks like an open sewer.

  63. Here's how to stop the corruption.

    1. Limit terms one can serve to 2

    2. Mandatory prison for those convicted of crimes that betray the public trust. They should be severe.

    3. If convicted, the lawmaker forfeits their pension.

    4. And to hold the voters accountable (since they're the ones who put these crooks in the position of power), if their rep is found guilty of corruption, the sear remains vacant for 5 years.

  64. MY IMPOSSIBLE DREAM . . .

    ...would involve the increased knowledge and education of the electorate ,,, and they must know how important this is.

  65. Oh my! Why didn't we think of that? MORE GOVERNMENT is the answer!

  66. Did I just give this article a cursory read and fail to find the political affiliation of these crooks? Seriously? Is the NYT becoming this cynical as to not even mention IN PASSING (I guess the author's party is given at the bottom) that all these guys are Democrats? Jesus.

  67. Legislators, part time or not, should be treated as state employees. There are stringent rules and regulations in place to prevent state employees from accepting outside employment, gifts, etc. Serious violations usually result in fines and/or dismissal.

    For example, these are some of rules applicable to state policy makers with respect to outside activities:

    "You must inform your agency prior to serving as an unpaid officer or director of a not-for-profit corporation.

    "You need prior approval from your agency for an outside activity in which you expect to receive compensation between $1,000 and $5,000.

    "You need prior approval from both your agency and JCOPE for an outside activity in which you expect to receive compensation greater than $5,000.

    "You need prior approval from both your agency and JCOPE prior to serving as an officer or director of a for-profit corporation (regardless of any compensation you receive)."

    There is no reason why these rules and regulations should not apply to legislators.

    The state Inspector General as well as the State Joint Commission on Public Ethics routinely investigates employee violations, as can be seen in their reports here http://www.ig.state.ny.us/reports/reports.html and here http://www.jcope.ny.gov/enforcement/index.html.

  68. I want to hear from Zephyr Teachout. Her campaign for the Democratic nomination was inspiring, and I'm sure she has some good ideas.

  69. Professor Teachout DOES have some good ideas. She has published them
    in book form-- about corruption in government. The Times reviewed her book favorably but would not endorse her gubernatorial candidacy because, evidently, she lacked the gravitas of seasoned pols like Mr. Silver, Mr. Skelos and Mr. Cuomo.

  70. Term limits and routine cash flow audits from a team of retired IRS agents who donate their time and have zero political affiliation. Seize assets from anyone who is caught and prosecuted and take away pensions, health insurance for life and any other perks our elected officials give themselves while in office. Prosecute not only the politicians but the people (including corporations and their top brass) who benefit from these illegal deals. But none of this will ever happen.

  71. Anita you are right on. However, a constitutional is needed, one where no current legislators or associates can participate.

  72. Unfortunately, the lust for power is all too often accompanied by a lust for greed. No matter how many reforms are put in place it's hard to legislative reforms to guard against ambition run amok. However, I would add two reforms that might help: (1) public financing of all campaigns something Governor Cuomo has yet failed to enact; and (2) term limits to prevent the rise of a powerful, entrenched career political class such as we have here in New York that is able and willing to abuse the laws they're sworn to protect.

  73. Every incumbent should be voted out and only reform candidates supported.

  74. NY TO CLEAN HOUSE? I sure hope so! Down here in PA, we've got an Attorney General, Kathleen Kane, who, despite withering, vicious attacks from the GOP, is still determined to clean house. She has demonstrated that it is possible to hold judges and other officials accountable for abusing the use of the official government computer system by sending pornographic, mysoginistic, racist e mails. HINT: Gov. Cuomo, start getting your AG to screen government e mails. Call ongoing emergency sessions of legislators, ongoing until the ethics crises are resolved. Advocate massive financial transparency in the state government. That list should keep you and the legislature busy for awhile.

  75. It might help if the NYT , "the paper of record" spent some time investigating this problem before the indictment stage. The NYT needed Silver and Skelos to help advance their various interests , so they managed to "miss" the story until it blew up and they had to cover it. The NYT manages to cover corruption in Kabul more often then Albany. ...A

  76. "...[T]he governor is astonishingly adept at manipulating the levers of power, when he chooses to do so."

    This is a gem from today's NYT editorial. In addition to investigating corruption before indictment, as you sagely suggest, maybe the Times could express a wee bit of contrition at having endorsed Cuomo on this very page AFTER he disbanded the Moreland Commission. Without a mea culpa from the Times editorial board, its calls for reform, as well as its publication of Assemblyman Lavine's, are utterly hollow.

  77. Mr Lavin overlooked term limits.

  78. Term limits are a double edged sword. If a person does a good job and is endorsed by their constituents , term limits destroy the option to re-elect.

    Term limits also destroy continuity. Placing neophytes in charge of the many committees that exist in both Houses of Congress every few years makes no sense and would impede or destroy progress

    The Constitution does not mention the concept term limits which were only established after FDR's four consecutive terms in the White House.

    Since term limits disenfranchise the voter , they may well be unconstitutional and should be examined by the Supreme Court under that particular microscope.

    The entire voting process is all about the popular vote. Unpopular pols can be tossed out. Conversely , term limits prohibit popular candidates from keeping their seats despite the will of their constituents , the American people.

  79. Interestingly he utterly fails to mention TERM LIMITS and political careerism. I agree they should work fulltime but he doesnt see that while not perfect, term limits AND Initative and Referendum work very well, at least here in Cali they do. Instead, he laments about a C-SPAN type channel on legislators. That may be nice, but that cant possibly be on the top of his list. We need a way to empower people and diffuse the corrupt NY political parties' power. He also fails to even raise the lunancy behind the corrupt ballot access laws. The was ballot access is now should be scrapped and burned.

  80. Kudos to Mr. Lavine, but add to his list of reforms a fifth, namely, to bar legislators from creating their own "charitable" organizations which they fund with slush money and staff with themselves, friends, family, and political donors under the guise of altruism. This practice is a disgraceful and should be banned. The line between government assistance and non-profit charity should be not be a blurry one. Leave charity to the charities, and government to the government.

  81. i.e. the Clinton Foundation.

  82. There is no competition for legislative seats in many parts of the State. The Republican Party is non-competitive in most parts of New York City, leaving the choice of elected officials to "inside baseball" with the occasional primary at which only the Democratic party faithful vote. In upstate New York the process favors the Republican Party.

    Candidates should be listed on the ballot by name without Party designation. The Parties can endorse and work for any candidate they wish but the Party designation should not appear on the ballot in the voting booth.

    Would this result in a more competitive election? It would encourage individuals who are not beholden to the Democratic Party to run for office in NYC. It would encourage the voters to think about the qualifications of the candidates besides party affiliation. The same process would open up elections in upstate New York.

    Is it a cure all to corruption? Of course not. But I am convinced that there are many qualified people who if they did not have to pay homage to a particular party would be willing to run for legislative seats.

    My proposal is no doubt in conflict with current election law and the current beneficiaries of the system will oppose it. No surprise there.

  83. We as citizens deserve some of the blame for the corruption we see, both at the state level, and at the national level (in Washington they call it lobbying). Democracies do not fare well when most of the electorate stays home watching reality shows and football and the remaining public gets its information from Fox News. If we are to retain the benefits of democratic citizenship, then the democratic public needs to make the daily effort to become informed about the policies of the day, but more important, need to seek out information on the people they put into office.

  84. This reads like The Onion. The NY legislature is listed as a "full-time" legislature based on the generally-accepted definition of (a) it meets throughout the year; and (b) compensation (including per diem). So really, Mr. Lavine is saying we have a de facto part-time legislature. His prescription for the legislature's dysfunction is to have it meet more often (and earn more pay, presumably). If it meets more often, it will produce more laws. One might reasonably argue that the New York legislature is already incredibly prolific in its law-making function, to the state's comparative detriment. More lawmaking means more money spent or taxed which means more lobbying which means more lobbyists which means what we've got now, only bigger. This doesn't sound like a fix to me.

  85. Full time legislators will not fix the problem. Massachusetts (where I used to live) has a full time legislature and the last couple of Speakers of the House have gone to jail or have been tried for corruption. As usual the excuse is that it was not corruption, but just how things get done. The juries have not bought that excuse. I am certain that the level of corruption was always there (or perhaps even higher), but there was no political will or ability to detect and prosecute the offences.

  86. The problem with the Legislature is the Senate leader and Speaker don't just "lead" their chambers, but under the rules they autocrats. Members surrender their voice and individuality to leadership. Too often, unelected staff in the respective leader's office has more power than members.

    Each house needs to empower their committee system, establish conference committees, and "3 men in a room". The dysfunction with the Legislature begins with the fact that neither chamber is a democratic institution.

    The best disinfectant is light, but NY media rarely is willing to shine it. More and better coverage is needed of the Legislature, and Governor, and a more consistent basis. These members are politicians; they crave attention. The media should cover them much more. Each paper and broadcast could have a "Better Know an Assemblyman" segment.

  87. State politics is corrupt at its roots, namely, the corrupt party bosses who select candidates for local "governance" in the first place. Reform would need to begin with reform of both political parties. But there is a larger question that goes to the very framework of a constitution written by slaveholders who wished to protect their institution from an anti-slavery federal government. We still live in a nation with a large regional cultural divide, and states righters are still very much with us. The irony of the last economic crisis is that these very individuals essentially bankrupted state economies by disinvesting in them and instead bailing out banks and financial institutions. As of now, state government--from the heating bills for state houses right down to the wages paid legislators--represent nothing but a financial burden to the citizens whose interests they are supposed to represent.

  88. Give voters a choice and the necessary information when deciding for whom to vote. Open primaries (without Party chicanery) is the first necessary step. A standardized information form for each candidate to allow intelligent selection would be beneficial for the Public and finally, a Consumer's Union type rating system such as is done with cars that is published by a blue ribbon panel of jurists that rates the Integrity of the individual . Better than a grand jury after the fact....

  89. Their would be a great deal of cost and personal sacrifice if the legislature became full time. The author does not give the reader an estimate of the additional cost or discuss the unintended consequences for married members with children. Some states have legislatures that meet every other year and it works fine. Judging from Washington DC there does not seem to be a corrolation between time spent in session and the quality of laws produced.

  90. In my estimation it is the two party system and lobbying that are the main problems. Neither the 2 party system or lobbying are mentioned in any constitution, yet they absolutely control the agenda and the process of governing. They help create the atmosphere where people thirst for power which then leads to the corruption we see.

  91. This is a terrible ed op piece. In Nassau County, the politicians have their hands out to the lobbyists. They can accept funds from them in exchange for contracts. When they are convicted, they can still collect their state pensions. Lavine's call for reform does not even consider these measures. If this is the extent of reform for Albany, we will have politics as usual. How many of our elected officials to Albany have to be convicted to have true reform.

  92. Overturn Citizens United.
    Transparency on campaign donations.
    Public financing of elections.

  93. Harsher punishments will help.

  94. i think it is very naive to pay legislators less than $100k a year and expect them not to be corrupt. their salaries should be at least doubled

  95. I say we let Ted Cruz " Carpet Bomb" Albany to oblivion. It is Ted's answer to the big problems.

  96. what are we paying them for? basically, both senators and assembly members vote the way the leaders tell them to. otherwise, their legislation does not progress and their districts get no money. you could save a lot of money just letting two guys sit with cuomo in a room and not bothering with the rest of them.

  97. You can begin addressing NY State corruption by acknowledging that it begins in the power center of the State, namely, New York City, a powerhouse of graft and government-by-machine for the last two centuries running. This paper's pretense that NYC's one-party rule does not represent a complete perversion of democracy, and a throwback to Tammany Hall, simply reflects the fact that the Times is part and parcel of the local ruling class. The purpose of NYC government is to redistribute federal tax, State tax, and Wall Street monies to for-profit and not-for-profit parasites who have always existed on this largesse, and always will; no others need apply. The stonewalling of vested interests toward the current Mayor's slightest move in the direction of restructuring the housing market is a perfect expose of the illusory nature of this city as a "liberal democracy."
    The Democratic borough machines are to this City what the Republicans are to this country.

  98. There is only one way to "fix" Albany. New Yorkers need to be educated about who they are voting for and why that person is a good candidate. You cannot repeatedly vote in these criminals then depend on the DA to oust them.

    Albany is full of these characters. Add in Elliot Spitzer to the mix.

    However, of course, in today's society, no one is ever responsible, right? It's always someone else's fault and someone else's responsibility.

  99. If the NYT applied the same standards to the corruption in Albany as they do to the Republican party, then they would have to declare that all Democrats are crooks.