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New York corruption: Cuomo calls for reforms, denies plan to oust Silver

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and other New York

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and other New York officials are calling for reforms in the wake of the corruption scandal that erupted on April 2, 2013. (March 20, 2013) Photo Credit: Mike Groll

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Monday called for broad legislative reform in response to an unfolding political corruption scandal touching the Hudson Valley and New York City, but he downplayed reports that he and his top aides had discussed harnessing public outrage to try to oust Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

Speaking on "The Capitol Pressroom" radio program, Cuomo described himself as "a partner to Silver" in delivering on-time budgets for three straight years.

"It's wholly up to the body to select the speaker," the governor said. "I'd never try to influence that decision."

The New York Post reported Monday that Cuomo is considering an effort to dislodge Silver and replace him with Rochester Assemb. Joseph Morelle after conferring with aides over the weekend. Silver has led the Assembly since 1994.

Cuomo and Silver have been critical of each other in the past, butting heads in recent years over the so-called millionaires' tax and pension reform.

During his appearance on Albany radio station WCNY on Monday, Cuomo called for comprehensive reform that would address issues such as:

• The Wilson-Pakula law, which lets candidates from one party run on another party's ticket if party leaders provide required paperwork.

• The "absurd" limits allowed under current campaign finance law.

• "Member items" and other discretionary funding controlled by state legislators.

On its website, Reinvent Albany, a government watchdog group, cited $288 million in discretionary state transportation funds as a little-known source of funding that could be turned to personal use. That pool of funds was highlighted in the U.S. attorney's corruption investigation of Democratic state Sen. Malcolm Smith and five others.

The FBI sting operation also led to last week's arrests of Republican Queens City Councilman Daniel Halloran, Bronx GOP leader Joseph "Jay" Savino and Queens GOP vice chairman Vincent Tabone in an alleged plot to secure Smith a spot on the Republican ticket in the New York City mayoral race.

FBI agents also arrested Spring Valley Mayor Noramie Jasmin and Deputy Mayor Joseph A. Desmaret in an alleged bribery plot involving the building of a community center adjacent to the village hall.

Two days after those investigations came to light, federal prosecutors charged Democratic Assemb. Eric Stevenson of the Bronx with accepting more than $22,000 in bribes to help developers open adult day care centers.

Cuomo cited previous cases of corruption involving figures such as former State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, former state Sen. Pedro Espada and former state Comptroller Alan Hevesi.

"The system doesn't work. For so many years, we've done this piecemeal," he said of reform efforts. "It's time to step back."

Asked whether he would establish a Moreland Commission to investigate public corruption, Cuomo said, "We're exploring a number of options."

Moreland Commissions have the power to issue subpoenas, prosecute and conduct investigations.

Cuomo said the corruption scandal not only spotlights flaws in the system but also presents an opportunity for reform: "Never waste a crisis, as they say."

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