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Is Something Rotten In The State Of New York?

Binyamin Rose, with reporting from Eytan Kobre

The Empire State has seen more than a dozen legislators indicted or convicted on corruption charges in the last decade — more than any other state in the union. Are the rules different in Albany?

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Sheldon Silver was only a college boy when New York’s famed and perennially corrupt political machine, Tammany Hall, sang its swan song in the 1960s. For well over 100 years, Tammany Hall set the tone for Democratic Party power politics. Its north-of-the-Mason-Dixon-Line brand of good ol’ boy politics drew grassroots support from New York’s ever-increasing pool of immigrants. In addition to aiding the newcomers in planting their feet firmly on American turf, Tammany Hall bosses helped themselves to heaping portions of public funds, enriching themselves and their associates through their corrupt political dealings. When Silver, 70, was indicted last Thursday by federal prosecutors for allegedly masking political payoffs as justifiable income from his outside legal work, he became the 13th member of New York’s legislature in the last decade to face corruption charges. The list includes eight state senators and four fellow Assembly members. As of press time, Silver is free on a $200,000 personal recognizance bond and the government has confiscated his passport. Under state law, Silver may remain in the Assembly unless he is convicted. Tammany Hall may have disappeared into the historical woodwork 50 years ago, but the legacy it carved out is one that New York has yet to leave behind. “The case of Silver, who deserves a presumption of innocence, can be seen as motivated by self-enrichment or as an attempt to maintain his control of the levers of political power,” saysMichaelJohnston, a professor of political science at Colgate University and a lab fellow atHarvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics. “New York has an individualistic political culture in which there are a very wide range of interests at stake, which leads to deal-making. So it’s not necessarily the case that New York politics has gotten more corrupt. It might just be that the US Attorney has gotten more active in pursuing these cases.”

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