Albany corruption points out need for the right reforms

— It was recently reported that two Albany lawmakers from Downstate were involved in corruption and bribery. One lawmaker, Assemblyman Eric Stevenson, is accused of accepting more than $22,000 in bribes from four adult daycare centers, with the understanding that he would put forth legislation that would benefit the centers. He is also accused of helping the four co-conspirators obtain building permits and expedite installation of a gas line at one of the centers. Another Downstate lawmaker, Nelson Castro, has also resigned as a result of being ensnared in an unrelated perjury case. He reportedly helped state and federal prosecutors gather evidence on Stevenson.

Two days before law enforcement charged Stevenson, State Sen. Malcolm Smith was accused of bribery and corruption in an effort to allegedly buy his way onto the New York City mayoral ballot as a Republican candidate. In addition to Sen. Smith, the scheme ended up involving two New York City Republican Party officials and two Democratic officials from a Rockland County village.

These troubling revelations add to a long list of members of the state legislature who have been accused and/or convicted of corruption over the last decade. Primarily, those who have been convicted are from New York City but Upstate New York is not immune. This corruption is an embarrassment to New York State and to the State Legislature. It naturally raises people's cynicism of government and stains every member of the legislature who is trying to represent his or her district in an honest, vigorous and straightforward manner.

With these latest indictments, the issue again arises as to what we can do in State government to prevent corruption. Very often one hears the retort that you can't legislate ethics. To that end, some say if an elected official chooses to be corrupt, there isn't much you can do about it other than catching them and vigorously prosecuting them. Certainly, there is some truth to that contention. However, I think it is important to examine the political circumstances that have allowed this corruption to take place and examine whether any processes can be put in place to prevent future corruption.

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