Condemning Albany corruption has proved a reliable way to win public cheers for the past 10 or so years. Yet the record shows that those who preach from powerful offices pay a karmic price.
Ex-Gov. Eliot Spitzer propelled himself to high office by inveighing against wrongdoing. Some believed that had he not been such a grim scold, he might have weathered his hooker scandal without resigning. But before the public even learned of his hobby, Spitzer hurt his own image by trying to destroy State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno.
By 2013, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo -- with his most recent reform proposals rejected by the legislature -- appointed a corruption commission that was widely presumed to serve as a tactical bludgeon against his Assembly and Senate negotiating partners. Editorialists cheered; his office enlisted endorsement from Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for New York's Southern District.
When Cuomo closed the panel, however, Bharara turned critic. Soon, he even warned that the governor's publicity orchestrations on the topic could cross a line into obstruction or witness-tampering.
But on Friday, after weeks of delivering lectures and zingers surrounding his prosecution of Assemb. Sheldon Silver, Bharara became the one called out for grandstanding.
Silver (D-Manhattan) -- forced in February from the speakership -- had moved for a mistrial, citing Bharara's barrage of allegedly prejudicial blasts tying Silver to a "show-me-the-money culture of Albany."
U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni denied the motion, but released a 16-page opinion that said: "The Court is troubled by remarks by the U.S. Attorney that appeared to bundle together unproven allegations regarding the defendant with broader commentary on corruption and a lack of transparency in certain aspects of New York State politics."
One spirited speech by Bharara at New York Law School, delivered hours after Silver's arrest in January, might better have been "focused on politicians who have actually been convicted," Caproni tartly suggested. She branded as "pure sophistry" a prosecution claim that the timing was coincidental. She said Bharara's media blitz "strayed so close to the edge of the rules" that Silver had a "non-frivolous argument that he fell over the edge to the Defendant's prejudice."
Surely Bharara, who didn't immediately respond, has the seasoning to know that in the political cosmos, the winds of blame and recrimination shift direction over time.