Remember Dean Skelos?
How about Adam Skelos?
Dean once served as Majority Leader of the New York State Senate, which made him a very powerful person in one of the most powerful states in the country. He worked closely with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who referred to him as one of “we three amigos” in his 2015 state of the state presentation.
Adam Skelos was never very well known, or very powerful.
But he was the son of Dean Skelos, who used his considerable power to get his offspring a well-paying no-show jobs for which he was completely unqualified, essentially threateningly telling businesses legislation they supported would be killed if they refused to hire Adam.
It was disgusting behavior, and last week both father and son were sentenced for their roles in one of the state’s more embarrassing corruption scandals — Dean Skelos to four years and three months, and Adam Skelos to four years.
It’s a case that has gradually faded from public consciousness, which is understandable but also unfortunate.
Every time a corrupt politician, or one of their associates, slithers back into the news, however briefly, it should remind voters that our state government is dysfunctional and broken and that nothing has been done to fix it. Some of New York’s most powerful politicians have gone or are going to prison, and the response has been a collective shrug.
If past elections are any guide, corruption is not an issue about which voters care very deeply or to which they give great consideration when they cast their ballots.
That’s a shame. The Skelos’ sentencing is a timely reminder that corruption has real consequences. And that it’s ultimately up to voters to send a message: It’s unacceptable.
I know from experience that this is harder than it sounds — I like some of my local legislators, and I’m generally inclined to vote for them.
But I also know that rewarding long-serving incumbents only reinforces the status quo. Legislators are not going to push for ethics reform unless there’s a compelling reason to do so, such as a serious threat to re-election.
Voters might view corruption as a separate and distinct issue from more pressing concerns. But it’s inextricably connected to other, longstanding problems.
New York’s pay-to-play culture, in which powerful interests donate to politicians in exchange for policy outcomes, contracts and other favors, ensures that government serves the privileged, rather than the people.
The recent federal trial of Cuomo aide Joseph Percoco showed this unseemly system at work: Percoco was convicted of soliciting more than $300,000 in bribes from executives of two companies with state business, in exchange for taking official actions on the firms’ behalf. This isn’t how government is supposed to work, but it’s par for the course in New York.
It’s easy to forget about corrupt politicians once they disappear from the headlines, and I’m sure there are plenty of people who would be more than happy to never hear the name Dean Skelos, or Sheldon Silver, for that matter, again.
I’m not one of those people.
Every time I hear their names, I think, “Something’s got to change.”
And it’s a thought that will be with me in November when I head to the polls to vote.
Reach Sara Foss at [email protected]