Three weeks after unveiling two separate corruption cases against New York lawmakers, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara offered cautious praise for anti-corruption proposals that are now under consideration in Albany, but warned that simple fixes are not enough for what he says is a badly broken system. NY1's Zack Fink filed the following report.
In his first public remarks since his press conferences announcing the arrests of public officials earlier this month, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara of the South District of New York told the Citizens Crime Commission in a Manhattan meeting that corruption is pervasive in Albany.
Bharara, who some speculate has political ambitions of his own, encouraged lawmakers to reform the system while they can.
"New Yorkers should not settle for something weak when there is an appetite and an opportunity for something strong," the U.S. attorney said.
Cautioning that he does not specifically endorse any policy proposals, Bharara did note that under current law, elected officials convicted of corruption get to keep their taxpayer-funded state pensions.
"And that right is enshrined where? In the state constitution. And that is written by whom? The legislature. Now does anyone who is not drunk on power or addicted to self-dealing think is remotely rational?" Bharara said.
Reacting to Bharara's remarks, state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said judges now have a right to take away pensions from newly elected lawmakers. He stopped short of calling for forfeiture from longer serving lawmakers who were grandfathered in.
"I think you might have to change the federal Constitution in order to do that. There are issues of interference with contracts that already exist," Silver said.
Bharara said the key to ending corruption is more transparency in government. Both Governor Andrew Cuomo and State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli have championed open government websites.
"We should sometimes perhaps hold our applause for certain transparency measures until we scrutinize whether they truly reveal anything about the workings or behavior of our government and our public officials," Bharara said.
A new poll finds that more than 90 percent of New Yorkers think corruption is a serious problem, with more than 80 percent expecting more arrests. The Independent Democratic Conference in the state Senate and senate Republicans have both separately called for hearings into campaign finance.
Meanwhile, Silver said he is confident some kind of reform package will pass before the end of session.