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Corruption’s cost

New York is at the top of a number of rankings, but sometimes that’s not at all where you want to be.

When Monmouth University researchers asked more than 1,000 adults in a nationwide survey to name the U.S. state with most political corruption, respondents chose New York more than any other state.

A couple of months earlier, following the arrest of now former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Harry Enten of FiveThirtyEight.com compiled data that arrived at a similar conclusion. Ranked by corruption convictions, New York outpaced all other states.

The arrest of Mr. Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, on counts alleging fraud, extortion and conspiracy certainly was a low point for New York politics, but consider what has transpired in recent weeks. The New York Times and others reported that federal prosecutors are presenting evidence to a grand jury that’s weighing a case against state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Long Island Republican, and his son, Adam. According to the published reports, the investigation has focused on Adam Skelos’ business dealings and any influence the senator might have exerted to benefit him.

Then on Monday, the Times published a story detailing how Carl Heastie—the downstate Democrat who replaced Mr. Silver as Assembly speaker—managed to keep a home that his mother apparently had bought with embezzled funds and that a judge had told Mr. Heastie to sell, with the proceeds to go to her former employer. Six years later, the newspaper reported, he sold the home for nearly $200,000 more than his mother had paid—and used the money to buy a more expensive home.

These events occurred more than a decade ago and no one has accused Mr. Heastie of a crime. But his integrity certainly has come into question.

Elected officials suspected or accused of misdeeds deserve the presumption of innocence, but that’s not how it works for states plagued by political corruption scandals. Perhaps the recently passed ethics reforms mark a true turning point for New York, but it might be a long time before most people believe it.

4/24/15 (c) 2015 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

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