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Dean Skelos’ conviction may be tipping point for Albany ethics

This June 21, 2012, file photo shows Assembly

This June 21, 2012, file photo shows Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan), left, and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), right, during a news conference at the Capitol in Albany. Credit: AP / Tim Roske

ALBANY — The conviction Friday of former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos on corruption charges 12 days after the conviction of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has longtime Albany watchers wondering if this is a tipping point for the New York politics.

“Albany’s Watergate moment is here,” said Dick Dadey of the good-government group Citizens Union. “This marks the fifth former legislative leader to be removed from office under an ethical cloud since 2000,” Dadey said. “Our current legislative leaders must take note.”

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, said in a statement, “The justice system worked today. The convictions of former Speaker Silver and former Majority Leader Skelos should be a wake-up call for the legislature and it must stop standing in the way of needed reforms.”

But some politicians are saying no new laws are necessary.

State Sen. John DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse) told the Syracuse Post-Standard he didn’t believe the convictions would spur changes because Silver and Skelos were convicted of breaking laws that already exist.

“Business as usual,” lamented political scientist Lee Miringoff of the Marist College poll. “It doesn’t speak well, clearly, to any sense that Albany has gotten its act together . . . and the public, sadly, shrugs.”

In scandal-scarred Albany, which has seen more than 30 lawmakers removed or forced from office by corruption investigations in the last decade, the political fallout cut across party lines.

“Albany is out of second chances,” said Assembly Republican leader Brian Kolb (R-Canandaigua). “Every investigation, arrest and conviction of a public official has sounded an alarm on corruption. But Albany has responded to corruption alarms by hitting the snooze button each time.”

Skelos’ replacement, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport), said he was deeply saddened by the conviction of his friend.

“I take this situation very seriously and am determined to work with my fellow legislators to swiftly and completely restore the public trust,” Flanagan said in a statement.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) reissued the statement he made after Silver’s conviction: “We will continue to work to root out corruption and demand more of elected officials when it comes to ethical conduct.”

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