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Ethics is the issue in State Senate race for Dean Skelos’ seat

Candidates Todd Kaminsky and Chris McGrath.

Candidates Todd Kaminsky and Chris McGrath. Credit: AP / Newsday

How could the contest to fill the State Senate seat Dean Skelos left in disgrace after being convicted of influence-peddling be about anything but ethics?

The special election for the 9th District, which includes Long Beach and the southwest corner of Nassau County, is on Tuesday, the same day Democrats and Republicans vote in the presidential primary. A huge turnout for one of the few meaningful national primaries in New York — and for both parties — will likely spill over into the Senate race. Democrat Todd Kaminsky, a freshman in the Assembly, and Republican Chris McGrath, an attorney in private practice, are feverishly campaigning to fill out Skelos’ term, which runs through the end of the year. Voters get a do-over in November when they elect someone to a full two-year term.

The candidate who wins next week will vote in the final two months of the legislative session that ends in June. And the No. 1 issue is ethics. A Newsday/News 12/Siena College poll in February found that more than 80 percent of Long Islanders were disgusted with public corruption. Further, Long Islanders felt that stealing and cheating were corrupting our democracy and taking money out of our pockets. The public wants action.

McGrath and Kaminsky depict themselves as ready to lead the charge for ethics reform. Be wary. During recent budget negotiations, both the GOP Senate and Democratic Assembly put up roadblocks to any comprehensive changes.

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan opposes any limits on outside income. McGrath is no different and said he would keep his law practice if elected. The candidate rejected such a ban, saying it would create a “professional legislature full of career politicians.” Perhaps, but at least members wouldn’t be tempted to monetize their offices by having outside clients who also want legislative favors. Besides, McGrath supports term limits, which would prevent that permanent class of politicians he is so worried about.

In contrast, the Assembly passed an outside income cap of 15 percent of a member’s base salary of $79,500. Kaminsky voted for it, despite favoring a ban on all outside income. And Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie also balked at the terms of a proposed constitutional amendment to revoke the pensions of convicted public officials. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the Senate had agreed to such a bill last year.

Kaminsky supports the comprehensive pension-stripping bill. But labor unions fear it could be applied to public employees convicted of job-related felonies. And the Assembly wants an escape clause to allow a judge to consider family hardship before revoking a pension. That would undercut any deterrent effect of the law.

So if you run into either candidate, ask why his leaders won’t allow even a vote on the full slate of reforms. Ask what difference it makes whether either man gets elected if nothing is likely to change.

We are not endorsing for this temporary seat. We don’t want half a loaf of reforms. The party that passes a full slate of pension-stripping, term limits and a ban on outside income will be the one worth supporting, and its candidate worth endorsing. — The editorial board