Scandal Will Hurt
The New York State Inspector General’s report on the selection of Aqueduct Entertainment Group (AEG) to operate Video Lottery Terminals (VLT’s) at Aqueduct Racetrack should disturb many of us. In 2008 the top three elected officials in New York State, Governor Elliot Spitzer, Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno and Speaker Sheldon Silver decided to pick the developer for Aqueduct’s casino themselves. They also agreed to remove the restrictions that are usually imposed on lobbying state officials while a purchase contract was under consideration. This allowed campaign cash to flow to the decision makers. The process was doomed from the start.
The report was released last Thursday (10/21/10). The full report is available on the New York State Inspector General’s website. View report.
The Inspector General concluded that the Governor was not really involved in the decision making process, but allowed members of his staff speak for him.
Most of the blame is placed on the leaders of the State Senate. Majority Leader Joe Bruno helped write the legislation that removed the process from the normal contract approval process.
After Bruno’s resignation, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos did not try to change the process.
After Democrats took control of the State Senate in 2008, Malcolm Smith became deeply involved. He had already
Letters taken a $5000 contribution from Karl O’Farrell, the principal in AEG. The Rev. Floyd Flake, the former Congressman, and Malcolm Smith’s former employer had been made a minor stockholder in AEG. When objections to the presence of Rev. Flake and Darryl Greene, Smith’s former business partner arose, Flake and Greene resigned from AEG. Smith recused himself from the process. The IG determined that Smith continued to advocate for AEG.
After the Senate coup when the Republicans took control of the Sente and the counter coup when the Democrats retook control, Senator John Sampson became the de facto leader of the Democratic majority. The report declares that Sampson pressured AEG to include a contractor in the deal before he would select AEG as the winner. He was also found to have leaked information on competing bids to AEG.
The major criticism of Sheldon Silver, speaker of the Assembly seems to be that he allowed the process to go forward although he knew that AEG could not get approval from the Lottery Division due to the record of violations of its principal leader Karl O’Farrell in his native country of Australia.
The scandal will hurt many of us. The state has suffered a multi-million dollar loss because of the delay in choosing a new developer and collecting the continuing income from a successful development.
The State Senate and “Albany” have lost credibility because they are all being blamed for the scandal. The only Senators mentioned in the IG report are Joe Bruno (R), Dean Skelos (R), Malcolm Smith (D), John Sampson (D) and Eric Adams (D), Chair of the Senate Racing and Wagering Committee. In addition former Senators Carl Andrews (D) who was a lobbyist for AEG and John Sabini (D), Chair of the State Lottery Board played minor roles.
Among the many Senators not involved with the scandal is State Senator Eric Schneiderman who is a candidate for Attorney General. Long before the scandal broke and before he was elected to the State Senate, Eric worked Clean Money, Clean Elections campaign. He was Chair of the Senate Committee that issued the report that led to the expulsion of the convicted Senator Hiram Monserrate. He worked with the Brennan Center for Justice as they wrote their landmark reports on dysfunction in Albany. He has published articles on government and rules reform.
In statements published prior the IG report, Eric promised to go after public officials who engage in an act of wrongdoing that violates a business law, government fraud law, or other law over which the attorney General has jurisdiction. Specifically Eric promised to crack down on state officials who conspire with businesses or
take kickbacks or bribes to manipulate the public bidding process. He would investigate public officials who loot charities or non-profits to which they are connected as part of his broad powers to ensure that non-profit organizations operate honestly.
As we decide who to vote for we can’t find any candidate more committed to ending corruption in Albany than Eric Schneiderman.
The Inspector General’s office forwarded their report to United States Attorney Preet Bharara and New York County District attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr., for appropriate action and referring Senators Sampson and Smith and Senate Secretary Aponte to the Legislative Ethics Commission. State Senate Democrats do not have to wait for the legal process to conclude.
Before the next session they can choose a new leadership team. Senators such as Bill Perkins, Elizabeth Kreuger, Jeff Klein, Ruth Hassell- Thompson, Shirley Huntley or Diane Savino could bring back dignity to our State Senate.