Is rampant Democratic corruption Andrew Cuomo’s problem?

With word of Senator John Sampson’s arrest on corruption and embezzlement charges, it’s impossible to ignore the sense that New York’s Democratic Party is in need of a serious intervention.

Yes, Republicans have been vulnerable to the temptations of sleaze, but consider the Democratic perp-walk list over just the last five years:

Senator John Sampson, Senator Malcolm Smith, Senator Pedro Espada, Senator Efrain Gonzalez ,Senator Shirley Huntley, Senator Carl Kruger, Senator Hiram Monserrate, Assemblyman Eric Stevenson, Assemblyman Nelson Castro, Assemblyman William Boyland, Assemblyman Anthony Seminerio, Assemblywoman Diane Gordon, New York City Councilman Larry Seabrook, Comptroller Alan Hevesi, and Governor Eliot Spitzer.

That’s a long list of men and women, many in positions of highest leadership and authority within the state’s Democratic Party, indicted or convicted or resigned because of illegal behavior — and again, this is in the last half-decade alone.

Our Albany correspondent, Karen DeWitt, is reporting that there is new information about other Democratic lawmakers who may be in the cross-hairs for Federal investigators, because they were secretly recorded by Sen. Huntley, who wore a wire.

Those recorded by Huntley include “Senate Democratic colleagues Eric Adams, Jose Peralta, Ruth Hassel Thompson and Velmanette Montgomery, along with a City Councilman Ruben Wills,   the former spokesman for the Senate Democrats, Curtis Taylor, and Melvin Lowe, identified in the court papers as a former political consultant and associate of State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.”

All of these people are innocent until proven guilty, but there’s a lot of blood (and a lot of sharks) in those waters.

Which shouldn’t come as any surprise.  There have been signs of trouble percolating out of Albany for years.  This from the New York Daily News:

[John] Sampson’s tenure as leader was characterized by chaotic sessions, bloated payrolls and an almost never-ending stream of controversies. It was eventually revealed that under Sampson’s command, the Senate overspent its budget by at least $7 million.

A state Inspector General’s report in late 2010 blasted Sampson and other Senate Democrats for steering the multi-billion-dollar contract to operate a racino at Aqueduct to the politically connected Aqueduct Entertainment Group.

Some Democrats will argue that this is a bipartisan issue, that systemic reforms are needed that will keep all of Albany’s politicos from burying their snouts in the corruption trough.  Fair enough.

But it is increasingly difficult to ignore the sense that a Tammany Hall style culture now pervades the state’s Democratic Party, and it is even more difficult to ignore the fact that Andrew Cuomo has done nothing to restore order to the party that he leads.

Granted, from 2006 until 2010, Cuomo was obligated to follow a largely non-partisan track as state Attorney General.

But even in that role, it’s hard to imagine that calls for tough anti-corruption reforms within the Democratic movement would have been considered out of bounds.

As governor, meanwhile, there is little evidence that Cuomo has taken the steps necessary to purge the Democratic machine of those who would dip their hands in the till.

He has also failed to implement the kinds of internal checks and balances that might have identified and eliminated problem candidates, or create competitive primaries to challenge entrenched politicos.

Instead, he has distanced himself from the Democratic Party, attempting to portray himself as a kind of post-partisan governor, floating above the grime of Albany.

I’m not sure that works anymore.  Strong leadership starts at home and within your own movement. The Cuomo family is deeply identified with New York’s Democratic culture and right now that culture appears increasingly toxic.

It’s also worth pointing out that Democratic corruption appears to be thwarting the will of average voters in the state.

Over the last five years, New Yorkers have cast their ballots in such a way as to create a Democratic majority in both chambers of the legislature — only to have their desires thwarted by Democratic bungling and malfeasance.

This means that laws, policies and programs that a majority of New Yorkers support are being derailed, not by sincere and ethical Republican opposition, but by crooks within the governor’s party.

If Cuomo steps up to the next political level, his record in New York state will almost certainly include this spreading of stain of indictments, wire-taps, and money changing hands in alleyways.

He’ll either be seen as a guy who ignored the swamp in his own backyard, or the guy who moved decisively to help clean it up.

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34 Comments on “Is rampant Democratic corruption Andrew Cuomo’s problem?”

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  1. Pete Klein says:

    Rampant? Wow!
    Beware of adjectives and adverbs in news reports.

  2. Mervel says:

    I think his plan may be to stay above this whole thing. Which is why we see him supporting Republican led coalitions.

    From his perspective, what is easier to do distance himself from the Democratic Machine which in NYS by its very history and nature is corrupt, or to attempt a bottom up clean up effort of something that is ingrained in the very nature of Albany?

    I think he has made a strategic decision to be a bi-partisan gov, which will also help him make that broader claim when running for President if he does.

  3. Brian says:

    Peter – Yeah, I’d say “rampant” works. Sampson, Smith, Espada, Hevesi, Spitzer? That’s a veritable Who’s Who of New York Democratic power over the last half decade. A lot of little fish in there too.

    Mervel – I agree that staying above the fray appears to be the strategy. But divorcing the “Cuomo” brand from the “New York Democratic Party” brand is tough.

    –Brian, NCPR

  4. Paul says:

    Spitzer wasn’t indicted or convicted was he? Of what?

  5. Brian Mann says:

    Paul –

    No, true, Spitzer was not indicted nor was he convicted of any crime. However, Spitzer resigned following an ugly scandal involving his alleged political use of state police to target a political opponent and following his confession that he had hired prostitutes.

    –Brian, NCPR

  6. Paul says:

    yes it was ugly. but what you wrote wasn’t accurate so I thought I would check. thanks.

  7. The Original Larry says:

    Andrew Cuomo is the golden child of the corrupt NY Democratic machine. He owes them his political career but he is apparently not as astute as his father, who understood the difference between being a hack politician in a corrupt state that no longer has the national influence it once did and being a candidate with broad national appeal who can be trusted by people far from NY.

  8. dave says:

    Seems odd that we tell ourselves we want leaders who are independent and who place values above party… then when we get people like that, we wonder why they are ‘above it all’, and why they are not more responsible for their party.

    Personally, I don’t fault Cuomo for what some guy who represents a part of Brooklyn does… and certainly not for who the Governor before him slept with… anymore than I would fault Obama for what Bill Owens does, or George Bush did.

    I just don’t think it is his problem to fix. I prefer he continue working on the problems of our state instead.

    Let the party chair (co-chairs) work on fixing whatever issues the party has.

  9. The Original Larry says:

    Yeah right, Cuomo’s above it all now that he has his sights set on running for President. He won’t get to be President the same way he got to be Governor.

  10. mervel says:

    I think part of the issue is that these are not isolated incidents, this is simply business as usual in Albany for the Democratic Party. I think the Republicans in NYS are not much different they are mainly just envious of such an effective patronage and kickback process, they simply don’t have the history or ability to implement the plan. I mean from a ideological standpoint they are essentially the same as NYS Democrats.

    However Brian is correct it will be hard for Cuomo to distance and detach himself from them, but honestly I think he can do it. He has shown he knows how to work this system to his advantage. I find him pretty heavy handed but have a grudging admiration for his abilities.

  11. mervel says:

    If Sanford can win a house seat in South Carolina with broad support from the Evangelical Christian base ANYTHING is possible, and Coumo is much much smarter than Sanford and frankly with the exception of Christy, the Republican field as it stands now.

  12. oa says:

    Brian, you forgot Paterson, but people always forget Paterson, because he was a mavericky breath of fresh air, or something. Not corrupt like those other guys. Really lucky not to be indicted, and was actually saved from it by making sure he never worked more than a four-hour day or a three-day week.
    On Cuomo, what Dave said. Because he disassociated himself from a corrupt party, and didn’t let the most corrupt faction of that corrupt party run the legislature, he’s somehow guilty of not associating himself enough with the corrupt party and doing… what again? So by essentially doing everything he could to let Republicans have a share of legislative power, he’s guilty of abetting corrupt Democrats?
    Ize confoozed.

  13. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    @Dave: “Let the party chair (co-chairs) work on fixing whatever issues the party has.”

    Funny one! Seems like a lot of the dysfunction and corruption in ALL of the political parties in NY stem from scheming party chairs at county and state levels. The current crop of crooks coming out of Albany and NYC are not an aberration; they are the product of a uniquely sleazy system that was put in place in NY long ago in which plums were/are doled out to good soldiers. 3rd parties are for the most part controlled by the 2 major parties through infiltration of local committees and many decisions have been/are made behind closed doors before public hearings.

    I once was at a town board meeting where 3 board members voted yes on a motion. When the 4th board member asked what the motion was the first 3 looked at each other in confusion. Finally a member of the public let them all know what the motion was and the 4th voted yes. Motion carried!

  14. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    On the bright side, we may take back the trophy for Dirtiest Political Machine from Chicago! Whoo-hooo!

  15. SESZOO says:

    Is Cuomo involved in the life of corruption that is called New York State Politics ?
    Probably not, but it is hard to believe that anyone can work at a job and make it to the two top positions in the ranks and not know anything about what was happening as in what’s looking like the The normal way of doing business among his associates . Hopefully the Feds will unleash their sharks with no reins and not stop with no regard to whatever political pressure they’re sure to recieve and remove and prosecute any and all involved in this cancer that is New York Politics ,The citizens of New York and hard working taxpayers deserve no less . Also this maybe the Democrats time in the spot light but if one side is capable the other sides probably not far behind considering they all work in and for the same place , us….

  16. The Original Larry says:

    It is absurd to think Cuomo isn’t part of the systemic state government corruption or, at best, that he is ignoring it. Either way, he’s right in the middle of it.

  17. oa says:

    Also, too, Brian, this:
    Does sending an anti-corruption bill to the legislature count for anything?

  18. Tony Hall says:

    It’s important to recognize that in Albany, much more so than in Washington, the majorities and minorities in both houses of the legislature are their own separate parties, with their own campaign staffs and budgets and programmatic agendas, and only nominal loyalty to state leaders. State leaders, whether the governor or party chairman, have surprisingly little influence over the legislative leaders. That said, Brian is no doubt correct that there’s a public perception that Cuomo is in some way responsible for the Democratic Party (remember MSNB’s Chris Hayes attacking Cuomo for not supporting Senate Democrats?) and may hold him accountable for its corruption.

  19. newt says:

    According to Alan Chartok,, Cuomo is involved in a 4-way struggle over investigating corruption with the current NY AG Schneidermann, the regional U.S. Atty, and the Albany District Atty. Soares, whose office is being starved for funds to investigate, by Cuomo and the Legislature. Chartok claims that Cuomo wants to run it all, take all the credit for fighting corruption, and, of course, keep his finger on the scale to make sure things go his way. But he can’t step on Scheidermann too much, and the U.S. Atty (Peet something, I think) at all.
    Maybe if he could learn to share….?

    Can’t you just see all this being played out in a future Presidential primary? Democrats, unlike most Republicans, aren’t good Christians who are always happy to forgive and forget anything as long the perp is one of their own, and says he’s sorry.

  20. The Original Larry says:

    So, Cuomo was state Attorney General and is Governor and NOW he’s shocked to find corruption in the state govt? I agree that now he wants to be SEEN to be cleaning things up. It will be a neat trick if he can keep his own shoes clean while he sweeps up the gutter.

  21. Mike Flynn says:

    Sidebar humor concerning Albany legislators avoiding arrest: has to give Assembly woman Vivian Cook an honorable mention. The long time shopping spree pal of Sen. Shirley Huntley, who herself hasn’t been indicted ‘yet’ has me wondering why Republicans haven’t called into question her apartment being burglarized at this moment in time. I’m just kind of surprised Republicans haven’t accused Vivian Cook of adopting the old standby tactic of the waterfront Union thugs of old when worried about being subpoenaed, “I told yah, we was robbed and all our records were stolen.” Just kidding Vivian we know you’re as honest as the day if long. ‘SIC’
    Mike Flynn ‘Middle Class Mike’.

  22. Mike Flynn says:

    Oh yes, to answer the Question the headline here poses: Yes the Governor needs to play the ‘Moreland’ Committee card now to keep the political corruption stink off himself as Governor of NYS. He really is an honest guy, I totally believe that, but he has been told by myself and others, that rooting out corruption has to be his number priority now and everything else takes a back seat to cleaning up corruption in Albany, NY.

    Mike Flynn ‘Middle Class Mike’

  23. DanP says:

    Looks like they’re actually detecting and prosecuting a lot of the corruption. It is alarming, but may actually show the things in place to stop corruption are working. It leaves Cuomo in a tough spot. He has to show he’s doing something. Practically, it isn’t clear he needs to do something. A lot of things that have been suggested that he *might* do actually limit rights of petition and free speech in the name of campaign reform. Thing is, it does look like any of the politicians who came from the NYC crowd are worth a lot of close scrutiny — that includes Schneiderman and Cuomo… the ones who are charged with ensuring our laws are enforced.

  24. TomL says:

    NY State government stinks mainly from corruption in the Democratic Party leadership?
    Two words: Joe Bruno

    The problem is both party’s legislature leadership benefit – really exist at all – because of an entrenched bipartisan culture of corruption. Both parties will block any reforms the Governor might attempt, and smear him with the epitaph ‘King Andy’ to boot.

  25. Haven’t we seen enough to know that the corruption in Albany is bipartisan?

    Besides, as they say, the real crime is what’s legal.

    They’re both corrupt. Vote Green. Vote Libertarian.

  26. RD says:


  27. Peter Hahn says:

    The big problem is gerrymandering. Once these guys get in, they are in for life. and since they dont get paid all that much, its tempting to work on commission. Term limits might help.

  28. mervel says:

    Corruption happens, it is like another tax. For me the real issue is the impact on our state government. Corruption will lead and has led to more and more regulations and more and more kickbacks and to the creation of a maze of rules and regulations which rival the Soviet Union; to overide those regulations you pay up; the whole state system is corrupt as a reflection of how these guys optimize their profits from government service.

  29. mervel says:

    There is a reason that the DOH in our little county runs around paying people 70k per year to stop bake sales, it is the end result of this sort of a system.

  30. newt says:

    A “Daily Beast” story rating corruption is states has NY roughly in the middle. Most of the worst states are (surprise!) in the South. Vt.,which I thought would be at the very bottom, was #39. But I doubt the accuracy of this story. Illinois, with something 5 out of the last 8 Governors having served prison time, was rated #47 in corruption. Right. (I figure someone in Illinois “talked” to the reporter).

    Another study I looked at cited New Jersey as the least corrupt state. I read no further.

    Anyway, I guess it could be worse in NY. I don’t think there’s much systemic corruption north of Albany. That is, I don’t have to pay off anyone to get a permit or license, and I wouldn’t want to try to pay off a Trooper to escape a ticket.

    I hope this post does not result in disagreements based on anecdotes. There are always exceptions.

  31. Mervel says:

    I remember Oklahoma in particular had a HUGE corruption problem at the county level. A bunch of county administrators went to jail.

    Corruption is interesting in how it morphs and changes based on the state. In the South I think corruption which indeed is rampant is more local, the local cop gets his home taken care of by the county inmates, the count administrator gets a cut on land deals etc. While it seems in states with a more powerful centralized government like NJ or NY it happens in a different way, with political payoffs and patronage jobs.

  32. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    “I don’t think there’s much systemic corruption north of Albany.”

    There is a lot of systemic political corruption north of Albany, but the politicians are so cheap and easy it is laughable. They will do corrupt things for free for their buddies or for the Party hierarchy. Sometimes they do corrupt stuff and the corruption is so ingrained they don’t even know they are being corrupt.

  33. Lily says:

    The Governor needs to show some energetic, aggressive leadership on this issue,and fast. His anemic response to date sends the message that the whole thing bores him.

  34. mervel says:

    Now the other way of looking at it that he might want to consider is that attacking the NY Democratic party machine may play very well nationally. Coming from NYS he will already be at a disadvantage electorally in a national race. So to move aggressively against this could work for him?

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