Bharara Identifies Recurring Problems With Albany Political Culture in Media Appearances After Silver, Skelos Cases
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara is taking a victory lap of sorts after winning high-profile corruption cases against two former leaders of the state legislature. Zack Fink filed the following report.
After winning major corruption victories against Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara opted not to hold a press conference. Instead, he selected his media appearances, giving an interview to The New York Times over the weekend. And on WNYC radio this morning, Bharara was asked about whether he's trying to put state government as a whole on trial.
"What we proved in court in two different cases was a quid pro quo," Bharara said. "The system wasn't put on trial, although incidentally, the system looks pretty terrible. Individual people were put on trial with respect to their conduct over the course of time, and the evidence was overwhelming."
Calls for reform have gotten louder now that the two men who began the year as two of the three most powerful men in state government were forced to forfeit their offices altogether in the final few weeks of 2015.
The mayor on Monday also weighed in about what more needs to be done.
"I think everyone in Albany needs to do more," Mayor Bill de Blasio said. "I think it's clear that the three major forces in Albany - the Senate, the Assembly and the governor - all have to get together and agree on a wide0ranging package of ethics reforms. I think it must involve public financing of elections."
Over the weekend, Governor Andrew Cuomo said he favors public financing as well, along with other reforms. But he defended what state leaders have done so far.
"We had a very productive legislative session on reforms," Cuomo said Sunday. "We have more to do, but there is no doubt that we have put in place more ethic reforms than ever before."
Bharara noted that Albany's top-heavy structure is problematic because leaders are staying in power too long.
"When people have power for a very long time, and it's unopposed, and people can't blow the whistle on the leaders without fear of really serious retribution and maybe even sidelining, that corruption can flourish," Bharara said.
Bharara recently joined the social media site Twitter, and as one of his forst tweets he repeated his ominous words, "stay tuned." He tweeted that last Thursday while Cuomo was giving a speech in Albany. Asked about that on the radio Monday, Bharara said simply that he was joking.