NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — The conviction of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has shaken New York politics and provoked fresh calls to overhaul a government with a long history of corruption.
Silver, 71, was convicted Monday of receiving $5 million in improper fees from law firms for referrals. The jury found him guilty on all seven counts – four counts of honest services fraud, two of extortion and one of money laundering.
He now faces up to 130 years in prison.
A special election to fill Silver’s seat will take place April 19, the same day as the New York presidential primary.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Silver‘s conviction fires the warning shot.
“I think it’s a loud, clear message that the Legislature should hear: If you break the law, you will get caught, and you will get convicted,” Cuomo said Tuesday. “When you have an act of corruption like this, it really violates the public trust.”
The governor and others believe it’s time to consider strong ethics reform in Albany. Tighter campaign finance laws, restrictions on lawmakers’ outside income and stronger ethics enforcement are among the ideas that have been offered.
The governor is intrigued by the idea of a full-time Legislature to avoid the conflicts of interest that led to Silver’s conviction, but as a reality Cuomo said: “I spoke about it last year. There was no appetite to do it in the Legislature. I’m going to keep pushing, but you need a constitutional change to do it.”
Cuomo said it’s a controversial issue.
“There are a lot of people who don’t want full-time legislators, and they don’t want full-time politicians. They want people who do their legislative duty but then go back and have a real job,” Cuomo said. “I think it’s something worth talking about.
“Where legislators always get into trouble, it’s always the same thing. It’s in their outside income, and are they getting paid as a legislator or are they getting paid as an attorney?” Cuomo, who himself was criticized for disbanding the Moreland Commission on corruption, told CBS2’s Marcia Kramer.
Paul Newell, the man who ran against Silver last time and who plans to seek his seat again, says only making it a full-time job would eliminate corruption.
“As long as we have legislators getting outside income and a campaign finance system that depends on millionaires and billionaires, we’re going to be paying higher taxes,” he said. “We’re going to be paying higher rents.”
Shell-shocked people in Silver’s Lower East Side district have strong feelings about the issue.
“They should be devoted (full-time) to the people that put them in office,” said Michael Gantz. ” … They should be compensated appropriately.”
“They need to not just represent us but know what it’s like to be out here and what the people are experiencing so that they can go out there and represent,” said Stacy John.
Thirty state lawmakers have left office because of criminal charges or allegations of misconduct since 2000.
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