APRIL 26, 2013

Reform in Albany, bring it on


In 1779, John Williams was a member of the first New York State Senate. He was hauled to the floor after defrauding his fellow soldiers of their wages. The former American Revolution colonel had the dubious distinction of becoming the first New York State Senator to be expelled from that body and was held up by his fellow members as being “entirely without integrity.” “He appears to this Senate, wholly unworthy to represent the good People of this State in the dignified and important Place of a Senator thereof.”

Since the Albany Legislature, comprised of 150 assemblymen and currently 63 senators, is responsible for vital aspects of our daily lives, including the administration of health, transportation, education and safety services, we have a right to be alarmed by the level of felonious conduct among its legislators. Just as we thought the tides might be shifting, with a new governor and pledges for Albany’s cleanup, we witnessed this year a new low of lawlessness with the arrests of two current legislators and charges against a third former assemblyman.

In nearby New York City, Democratic legislator Malcolm Smith was arrested by the FBI on April 1 in a scheme to buy the New York City mayoral election; charges were filed against Assemblyman Eric Stevenson for allegedly taking bribes and against ex-Assemblyman Nelson Castro for perjury charges.

Former State Senator Vincent Leibell, who represented Bedford and Pound Ridge, was sent to prison for extorting funds from his lawyers working in Putnam County and failing to report tens of thousands of dollars on his income tax returns he had received in cash. The charges came as a result of an investigation into millions of dollars in “member discretionary funds” that Mr. Leibell used to provide item grants, dollars awarded by individual senators to their constituents and local governments within their home district. The stated purpose of the nonprofit Putnam Community Foundation was, among other things, to fund and develop senior housing in Putnam County.

And does the name Hiram Monserrate ring a bell?

Meaningful state legislative opportunities have been squandered in the meantime, including property tax reform, meeting unfunded state mandates, and the repeal of outdated and outmoded regulations such as the Wicks Law and the Triborough Amendment, each of which hinders effective local governance.

The state’s redistricting process, costing taxpayers millions along with hundreds of hours throughout the state, turned out to be yet another farce, breaking up sensible regional and geographic partnerships to create the Mekong Delta of the Senate’s 37th district and Tarrytown-to-Pound Ridge-to-Patterson triangulation of the Senate’s 40th. Sometimes we wonder why they bother.

When a decade or so ago the Brennan Center pointed out that New York City had the most dysfunctional legislature in the country, we shook our heads and wondered. With the highest taxes in the nation and a school funding system that is forcing homeowners to flee the state, it is sorrowful that so little has changed and that the headlines from Albany still revolve around palm-greasing and grandstanding.

Very few people can pull off the “I am not a crook” line, but the overwhelming numbers are hardworking lawmakers, or so we would like to believe.

Some leaders are beginning to take a stand. State Senator George Latimer recently began pushing a package of new ethics legislation designed to reform state government and combat the ongoing corruption issues facing New York, including stripping pension benefits, both retroactively and moving forward, from any state or local elected official convicted of a felony involving a breach of the public trust.’

Assembly bill 6161, sponsored by James Tedisco of Clifton Park, would give voters recall power. According to the bill, to recall a statewide officer, 20 voters who took part in the last election for that official would have to sign a recall petition. The governor could then schedule a recall election.

Gov. Cuomo’s Public Trust Act is intended to create a new class of public corruption crimes and give prosecutors the ability to clamp down on corruption. The proposed legislation would, for the first time, make it a misdemeanor for any public official or employee to fail to report bribery. And there are proposed changes to the statute of limitations for corruption and increased penalties for misconduct. The proposed legislation creates three new degrees of official misconduct: a Class E felony with a maximum penalty of four years; a Class D felony with a maximum penalty of seven years, and a Class C felony with a maximum penalty 15 years.

Assuming the act is signed into law, time will tell whether these enhanced penalties can keep politicians from dipping their hands into the cookie jar. Until now, the rewards have been too sweet, the risks too small, and the taxpayers are the ones to suffer.


Read more local coverage of your hometown in this week’s issue of the The Record-Review. Newsstand copies are available at several locations listed above, or subscribe today for convenient home delivery.

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The official newspaper of the towns of Bedford and Pound Ridge, New York

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NEWSSTAND LOCATIONS

Pound Ridge/Scotts Corners

  1. Scotts Corner Market – Trinity Corners Shopping Center;  55 Westchester Avenue

  2. Pound Ridge Sunoco — 66 Westchester Avenue    

  3. Sam Parker Country Market — 257 Westchester Avenue    


Bedford Village

  1. Bedford Rexall Pharmacy — Hunting Ridge Mall; 424 Old Post Road  

  2. Village Green Deli — Village Green; Routes 22 and 172    

  3. Bedford Shell — Routes 22 and 172 (at blinking light); 848 So. Bedford Road

  4. Village Service Center —193 Pound Ridge Road (at Long Ridge Road intersection)    


Bedford Hills

  1. Bedford Hills Deli – 7 Babbitt Road    

  2. Bueti’s Deli – 526 Bedford Road (Route 117)


Katonah

  1. NoKA Joe’s – 25 Katonah Avenue    

  2. Steger’s Paper Mill – 89 Katonah Avenue    

  3. Katonah Pharmacy – Katonah Shopping Center; 294 Katonah Avenue   

  4. Bagel Shoppe – Katonah Shopping Center; 280 Katonah Avenue    

  5. Katonah Sunoco – 105 Bedford Road


Mount Kisco

  1. Teamo/Mt. Kisco News – 239 Main Street    


Cross River

  1. Bagel Boys Café – Cross River Shopping Center; Routes 121 and 35    

  2. Cross River Shell Station – Route 35    

  3. Cameron’s Deli –  890 Route 35    

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