Is it me, or was anyone else just a wee bit troubled by the rollout Friday of an ethics bill meant to herald a New Albany that had been crafted and was then presented to the public by the symbol of Old Albany — the proverbial three men in a room. Where was the open discussion on the part of the state legislature, the transparency of process, the public comment? Oh, and by the way, where are the women in Albany?
The Gotham Gazette reported the deal was the product of “months of secret negotiations between Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.” Nick Reisman on YNN pointed out “the likelihood that negotiations came down to the wire on the deal. “The Daily Freeman wrote, “And the fact that it took months of secret negotiations to get this bill does not fill us with confidence.”
I’m not focussing on the content here. While not perfect, this deal is seemingly the best yet to reach this point and there but days left in the session. (It’s ironic to be describing ethics legislation using the term “deal,” in the first place.) It is, after all, about time the public knew who else was paying their elected officials. It is too bad the disclosure piece in the bill doesn’t kick in until 2013, but it will be interesting to see which incumbents choose to retire next year rather than disclose their business and legal clients.
And there are real concerns about the make up and selection process for the 14 member Joint Commission on Public Ethics, the proposed investigatory body which is one of the key pieces of the bill. The current — and longstanding — majorities in each house (Democrats in the Assembly, Republicans in the Senate) are assured appointing power to this body and these appointments would be locked in even if political control of the chambers change. Sounds an awful lot like Old Albany, especially if you consider the slim 32 to 30 majority the Republicans now hold in the State Senate.
No one will argue that New York State government is in need of serious ethics reform. The Empire State now rivals Illinois and New Jersey as the butt of political corruption jokes. In the last four years, Gov. Eliot Spitzer and Comptroller Alan Hevesi resigned in disgrace, Gov. David Paterson was fined over an ethics charge, Republican Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno was convicted of federal corruption charges, and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada Jr. was accused in corruption – and that’s just the leadership. A number of other lawmakers — including the Hudson Valley’s own former State Senator Vincent Leibell — have been charged and investigated in state and federal investigations. And then there’s the Anthony Weiner multi-media show now playing out.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo is admirably determined to restore faith in government and “clean up Albany.” To cite U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis: Sunlight is the best disinfectant. The people of New York State deserve a government that is ethical, responsive and transparent.