” Other states have plenty of corruption, but it’s hard to beat New York when it comes to sheer volume. The indictment Monday of Dean Skelos, the state Senate majority leader, and his son Adam came just three months after charges were brought against Sheldon Silver, then the Assembly Speaker. Having the top leaders in both chambers face indictment in the same session is an unparalleled achievement, but Skelos is now the fifth straight Senate majority leader in Albany to face indictment.
New York doesn’t so much have a culture of corruption as an entire festival. So far, Senate Republicans are standing by Skelos, but if they decide to make a change, they probably won’t turn to Thomas Libous, the chamber’s Number Two leader. He faces trial this summer on charges of lying to the FBI, while his son faces sentencing later this month on similar charges. All told, more than two dozen members of the New York state legislature have been indicted or resigned in disgrace over the past five years. “Albany for a long time has had a culture of self-interest, where private gains are woven in with public policy,” says Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause in New York.
Clusters of corruption and even convictions are not unique to New York. Silver was one of four state House Speakers to face indictment over the past year (Alabama, Rhode Island and South Carolina are home to the others). In Massachusetts, three Speakers prior to current incumbent Robert DeLeo all resigned and pleaded guilty to criminal charges. When Dan Walker died last week, it was hard for obituary writers not to note that he was one of four Illinois governors over the past five decades who ended up in prison. “While I’m a proud New Yorker and want my state to be ahead in everything, I’m not sure we’re ahead on corruption,” says Daniel Richman, a former federal prosecutor who teaches law at Columbia University.
Richman is kidding, but he makes a serious point. Give any U.S. attorney a year and 10 FBI agents and he or she can probably come back from the state capital with a passel of indictments. Having said all that, however, the waters in Albany have long been heavily stocked with potentially big fish. Remember in the movie Lincoln, when the president decides he has to resort to low dealings to get the anti-slavery amendment through Congress? The characters he relies on to do the trick come from Albany.”