Two separate cases involving bribery and corruption resulted in arrests of politicians from across the metropolitan region in early April.
The first case to break resulted in arrests of State Senator Malcolm Smith (D) and City Councilman Daniel Halloran (R) for an alleged scheme to place Smith on the ballot for the New York City mayoral election this year.
The second involved Assemblyman Eric Stevenson (D) receiving bribes from developers in the Bronx. Information was intercepted with the assistance of Assemblyman Nelson Castro (D) who wore a wire in exchange for avoiding prosecution in an unrelated perjury case.
Additional players were involved in both cases, shown in this infographic from The New York Times.
MetroFocus host Rafael Pi Roman sat down with Andrew Grossman, reporter for The Wall Street Journal and Jarrett Murphy, editor-in-chief of City Limits to discuss the implications of the cases on mayoral politics and possible reforms.
“[A] lot of these senators are in very safe districts. They’re not facing competitive re-election bids and that’s why they’re not losing and they’re able to build up a lot of power,” Grossman told Pi Roman.
According to Murphy, who has been reporting in Brooklyn as part of the Five Borough Ballot project, voters are aware of these scandals. “People were more aware of this than they were about even the existence of the mayoral race,” Murphy stated.
Grossman cited a Quinnipiac University poll that found that a majority of New York voters felt city corruption was the same as elsewhere . “I think there’s a sense that this is sort of par for the course,” he said.
Despite voter indifference, politicians have already been angling to reframe the scandals as an opportunity for reform and change. Mayoral candidate and former MTA chief Joe Lhota announced an ethics reform plan the weekend after the allegations and Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) unveiled the Public Trust Act and other proposals to strengthen laws against corruption.
Murphy identified two main roots of corruption to be tackled. “One of the main […] factors of the Malcolm Smith allegation is the idea the Republican county leaders had this power to keep someone on or off the ballot,” Murphy said. “We could ask the question about whether that’s appropriate. Whether we want to, you know, entrust them with that power.”
Besides limiting the power of money in elections, Murphy suggested increased access to information and transparency. “[I]f you can increase the chance that someone is going to get caught, you probably increase the disincentive to rip the public off,” Murphy said.