We’ve never liked term limits, but as it happens, we don’t have to. Federal prosecutors are doing the job for us. The latest official to land in trouble is Brooklyn state Sen. John Sampson, an ex-leader of the Senate Democratic caucus, who’s accused of embezzlement, obstruction of justice and making false statements.
His rendezvous with infamy was expected after the feds revealed last week that an ex-colleague, former state Sen. Shirley Huntley of Queens — facing criminal troubles of her own — made secret recordings for the government. We are pleased that the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District — a jurisdiction that includes Long Island — is working the official corruption angle.
Think secret wires or bribes are just par for the course in politics?
Wrong. The Empire State is just a hair’s breadth from being a national laughingstock for its corruption. That won’t exactly help Albany’s governing class sell the state as a premier business climate.
Bear in mind some of the marquee names on the current dishonor roll: There’s ex-state Comptroller Alan Hevesi, who in December got sprung from the slammer after spending time for his role in a pay-to-play investment scheme. There’s the recent “I Spy” episode that played out when two state legislators simultaneously made the rounds wearing live federal wires. Sen. Malcolm Smith of Queens, the former majority leader, was caught in that net.
Another Republican powerbroker, former state Sen. Vincent Leibell of Putnam County, spent 17 months in prison after pleading guilty to corruption charges. And who can forget Pedro Espada, a Democratic Bronx state senator who actually lived in Mamaroneck? Espada, who lost a 2010 Democratic primary, was indicted on corruption charges and last year pleaded guilty to tax evasion.
Since 1999, says Citizens Union, a good-government group, more than 20 state legislators with criminal or ethical baggage have been ousted. Not all politicians are bad, but too many are. We need talented and ethical public servants. And we need legislative leaders who can run clean shops. We need to loosen the grip party bosses have on selecting candidates. And we need aggressive local and federal prosecutors.
So who’s willing to step up?