Capital Punishment

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo gives his fourth State of the State address on January 8, 2014 in Albany, New York.   (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo gives his fourth State of the State address on January 8, 2014 in Albany, New York. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Two of Albany’s fabled three men in a room are now under indictment. The arrest of Senator Majority Leader Dean Skelos and his son, Adam Skelos, comes several months after Sheldon Silver, then the speaker of the Assembly, was indicted and arrested on corruption charges.

New Yorkers have every right to be sickened. The question is: Does Gov. Cuomo, who has promised time and again to change the way Albany does business, have the power and the desire to transform the capital’s corrupt and cynical culture?

It is fair to wonder if it is possible to serve in Albany and not become irredeemably corrupt. Consider the recent history of the State Senate. Mr. Skelos is only the latest majority leader to appear in a courtroom in the company of defense lawyers. Joseph Bruno, a Republican, was found guilty of corruption charges, although the decision was later overturned. Malcolm Smith, a Democrat, was convicted on corruption charges and awaits sentencing. Pedro Espada Jr., a Democrat, was convicted on corruption charges and sentenced to five years in prison. And now Mr. Skelos, a Republican, finds himself on the wrong side of the law.


Changing Albany’s culture will require determination and vision, a sense that the state’s reputation for sleaze is not just an embarrassment but an obstacle to prosperity.


For those of you keeping score at home, that’s four majority leaders, two Democrats and two Republicans that have been placed under arrest since 2008. And questions about whether Mr. Skelos should step down as majority leader are confounded by the fact that the next in line, No. 2 Republican Thomas Libous, is himself under indictment, also for allegedly maneuvering to benefit his son.

Legend has it that when Boss Tweed was confronted with evidence of his gross corruption in the early 1870s, he replied, “What are you going to do about it?”

The same question should be asked of every state legislator and every statewide official: What are you going to do about it? There is a role to play for every elected official in state government, should they decide to act on behalf of taxpayers and the state’s reputation. Other lawmakers, the attorney general, the comptroller and especially the governor all should stir themselves to action.

But what can voters do about it? The state’s political boundaries have been drawn to ensure the safe re-election of all incumbents for the rest of their days. Election laws are written to keep insurgents off the ballot and outside the system. Money flows to those already in power, regardless of party affiliation.

So there are no easy solutions, given that Albany really has no reason to fear the outrage of public opinion. Changing Albany’s culture will require determination and vision, a sense that the state’s reputation for sleaze is not just an embarrassment but an obstacle to prosperity. Who would want to do business in a state where everybody has a hand out?

One person’s voice could make a difference—the voice of the last man standing, Gov. Cuomo. Mr. Cuomo has gotten some incremental reforms passed, and he is happy to tout them. But as the police blotter indicates, real reform remains elusive.

Capital Punishment