As news has swept New York State about the arrest of NY Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D), reactions have been varied and explicit. The New York Times was the first to report the news in the early hours of January 22, 2015, followed by headlines in all the major and minor news agencies of New York. The repercussions of the arrest are still unclear.
What is know is that Gov. Andrew Cuomo created the Moreland Commission in late 2013. The goal was to seek out politicians and political organizations within New York that were engaging in corrupt practices, violating campaign finance laws, and/or otherwise violating election rules. To that end subpoenas were issued to high profile figures in NY politics – Speaker Silver, Dean Kelos, and Jeffery D. Klein among others. The Moreland Commission was unofficially closed in 2014, mere months after starting. Yet as seen by executive director Regina Calcaterra who received continued payments of $13,400 a month at least until June 2014, no official Executive Order from the Governor exists to close the Commission.
The fact that the Moreland Commission had targeted high profile NY politicians, and was rumored to be investigating Gov. Cuomo and organizations with ties to the Governor, is cited by many as the reason that the Commission was suddenly closed. Even while it was in operation, reports state that there was a large input from the Governor on what could and could not be investigated, though the Commission was publicly announced as having autonomy in its work. At the time there was question on whom Gov. Cuomo was protecting from the corruption commission. The public outcry was so intense, that it garnered national attention and led to the intervention of Federal prosecutors to continue the investigations of the Moreland Commission.
As of today, the question of who was being protected seems to be in part answered. Assemblyman Silver, arrested on charges of taking payments of up to $3.8 million over 15 years, was a primary target of the Moreland Commission, but he was not the only figure investigated. In total some 38 members of the New York Legislature have been arrested since 2000. The atmosphere of corruption is pervasive and obviously widespread.
Still that has not stopped many NY politicians from siding with Assemblyman Silver, both in the past and now. In 2008 it was Hillary Clinton who praised Assemblyman Silver, but in 2015 it is now Mayor de Blasio who is praising Silver,
“Although the charges announced today certainly are very serious I want to note that I’ve always known Shelly Silver to be a man of integrity and he certainly has due process rights and I think it’s important that we let the judicial process play out.”
Such a positive and supportive tone is not shared across the State. From scathing editorials, to commentary across social media, the apparent demise of a stranglehold of Democrat power is being met with cheers for justice. The movement for the immediate resignation from office can again be heard as was the case with Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney, who led the charge to remove Silver on 2012 after charges he directed funds to pay-off victims of former Assemblyman Vito Lopez, as stated in a press release we received from her office from today. That press release went on to state,
“Speaker Silver’s complete disregard for the ethics rules and hard-working taxpayers of New York is a disgrace. He should step down from his office immediately … The culture of corruption is pervasive as pay-offs, backroom deals, and cronyism are business as usual in Albany. This is unacceptable. Silver’s arrest is simply the latest indicator we need substantial reform in Albany.”
There are of course many Democrats that have taken a more wait-and-see approach. While not praising Assemblyman Silver as Mayor de Blasio did, Gov. Cuomo was quoted as stating,
“Obviously it’s bad for the speaker, but it’s also a bad reflection on government and it adds to the negativity… Obviously there’s a system and a justice system and I think everyone should respect the justice system. But I truly do not know enough.”
We will note that we asked Gov. Cuomo for comment on the issue. Specifically we requested comment on the fact that the arrest is a direct result of the continued investigations that were initiated by the Moreland Commission that Gov. Cuomo ended. As of the publication of this article, we have yet to hear a response, nor have we seen comment to answer that question elsewhere.
Akin to Gov. Cuomo, we asked Assemblywoman Lupardo for her opinion on the arrest, and the end of the Moreland Commission. Her office provided us the following comment,
“These are obviously serious allegations against the Speaker,” said Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo. “We will have to let the criminal justice system run its course. We’ll know more when we hear directly from the Speaker on Monday. In the meantime, we have serious work that needs to be done and we can’t let this sidetrack us.”
Still as much as there is caution from some political circles, and cries for resignation from others, few are willing to predict the potential outcome from continued investigations into the revelations that the Moreland Commission was working on. Our requests for comment, from Assemblywoman Tenney, Assemblywoman Lupardo, State Senator Tom Libous (who did not respond), and Gov. Cuomo (who did not respond) all failed to gain substantive answers to the question of what will the failed Moreland Commission result in for the State. It is conceivable that Gov. Cuomo could equally find himself sharing the fate of Assemblyman Silver and former Governors Patterson and Spitzer.
The only thing that is acutely clear, and has been known among average New Yorkers for decades, is that corruption in the New York government is a mainstay of State politics. From the hidden homes and IRS gaffes of Rep. Charles Rangel, to the Twitter scandal of Anthony Weiner, through at least 2 Governors and 30 State Legislators, many New York politicians have done little to dissuade the public from being concrete in their belief that politics in the State are not so much Blue and Red, but green. Even if the Moreland Commission were still in force, it is unlikely that such invasive corruption could be weeded out. But we can collectively hope that the Federal prosecutors picking up where Moreland left off will be able to make a dent.