ALBANY — U. S. Attorney Preet Bharara on Monday urged mayors statewide to aggressively watch for the same kind of corruption he has prosecuted in Albany.
“Be vigilant. There are predators everywhere,” Bharara told the annual meeting of the New York Conference of Mayors.
The prosecutor, who has reshaped Albany’s political power with his investigations, suggested Albany has been “a political system that can’t even police itself, can’t even reform itself.”
Because of that, he said his office’s continued investigations of government are essential.
“The point is not just to punish politicians who have broken the law . . . but to improve a political system that has broken down,” Bharara said.
“Idealism may seem like a luxury concept in these times,” he said, but added that “basic stuff” such as snow removal and repaving streets can’t happen effectively in the face of corruption in Albany or in municipalities.
“Those practical and pragmatic things you hope for cannot fully come to pass if the democratic process is broken; if the democratic process is rigged, if the democratic process has become a laughing stock. Even basic things cannot come to pass if the people have lost confidence,” he said.
Bharara, head of the U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York, is responsible for the corruption convictions of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) in December, as well as several other convictions of state legislators.
“He has changed the oxygen in Albany,” said Doug Muzzio, political science professor at Baruch College and a longtime Albany observer. “Does that change the behavior? . . . It may be the age-old difference between listening and hearing. I don’t know if it’s changed behavior.”
Bharara urged the mayors to be aggressive in their monitoring of construction and high-technology contracts that have been the basis of his convictions in the state and in New York City government.
“There is not always a federal prosecutor’s office to ride to the rescue,” he said. “There are predators everywhere. . . . It can happen anywhere, and probably does.”
After his speech to mayors, Bharara attended the swearing-in ceremony of Chief Judge Janet DiFiore in the Court of Appeals. There Bharara, sitting in the front row, mixed with Albany’s top leaders, including Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and legislators for the first time since his December convictions of Skelos and Silver.