Dan Janison has been a reporter at Newsday since 1997.
The convictions of Dean Skelos and Sheldon Silver are most impressive for the fact that U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara won them in such quick succession.
Never before have we seen this tandem scenario. The rulers of both Albany legislative houses began the year in power, were arrested 2½ months apart, stood trial in separate cases, and heard federal juries in adjacent buildings pronounce them both guilty before Christmas.
It all had a bipartisan symmetry.
Skelos, the ex-Senate majority leader and a Nassau Republican, lost in court 11 days after jurors lowered the boom on ex-Assembly Speaker Silver, a Manhattan Democrat.
The allegations differed. Bharara and his team showed Silver funneled state money to a doctor who got him legal referrals while Skelos squeezed businesses to benefit his adult son.
But corruption charges have long been routine in state capitals, and Albany’s “crime waves” come and go.
Twenty-five years ago this week, the political topic of fascination was the pending federal indictment of then-Assembly Speaker Mel Miller, a Brooklyn Democrat (who was later convicted but saw the case voided on appeal).
In the five-year period to that point in December 1990, 10 state lawmakers were criminally charged. As was widely noted then, more lawmakers were indicted during this period than lost their seats in a general election.
Some changes followed. New laws restricted the timing of legislators leaving office to become lobbyists. Other laws have been tightened, bringing somewhat improved disclosure requirements — the flouting of which helped jam up Silver.
The feds seem more aggressive and surveillance technology has improved. Last year one corruption case featured evidence of Queens GOP vice chairman Vince Tabone ineffectively searching an undercover agent for a body mike. The subsequent conversation was recorded nonetheless.
“Right now we are in dangerous times, Adam,” the elder Skelos presciently lectured his son in a phone call taped by the FBI. Adam Skelos’ use of a so-called burner phone didn’t prevent damning statements from being recorded.
The most sweeping legislative reform proposals appear elusive. An alteration in the guaranteed-pension rights in the state constitution, to bar the convicted from collecting, can be expected to occur, oh, some time around the end of days on earth. A full-time legislature that shuns outside income? Unlikely.
Most unflattering for both deposed leaders is that their absence may already matter very little. No big shifts have surfaced in Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s dealings so far with Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) and Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport), who both took the helm last session.
So political observers are now focused on whether a Republican or Democrat succeeds Skelos. Silver has vacated a Democratic-controlled seat in an overwhelmingly Democratic Assembly. Only in the more competitive Senate might the shift of one seat affect the balance of power — which could actually affect broader choices in government.