Editorial: Our leaders in Albany must be held accountable

state leadersAlbany is in need of serious reform. It’s been known for years, even decades, and is obvious to anyone who pays the slightest bit of attention to our state government.

There appeared to be hope with the 2010 election of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who ran on a reform agenda. But he ended up shutting down his own highly touted investigative body, the Moreland Commission, when its members began to hone in on the root of most problems in Albany: outside money earned by lawmakers, and specifically lawyers who have long claimed they couldn’t disclose details of their work — including their clients — because that would be a breach of lawyer-client privilege.

Several law firms joined in a legal push to stop the Moreland Commission from subpoenaing for details of the legal work that earned the firms’ state lawmaker-employees hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. Those law firms, which filed a petition to block the commission’s subpoenas, include Twomey, Latham, Shea, Kelley, Dubin & Quartararo of Riverhead, which employs both state Senator Ken LaValle and Assemblyman Fred Thiele, and Borah, Goldstein, Altschuler, Nahins & Goide of Manhattan, which employed Congressman Lee Zeldin during his years as a state senator.

Some in Albany have used former Speaker Sheldon Silver’s arrest to promote a public campaign finance reform agenda. That’s a distraction and will do little or nothing to end corruption. The real concern is that lawyer-legislators are enriching themselves through the use of their public connections and influences in Albany. These lawmakers should be required to disclose to the New York State Joint Commission on Public Ethics exactly how much money they made from which companies — not simply provide ranges of income, as they do now. Even further, they should disclose their clients and submit itemized lists of how they earned their money at these firms. We cannot simply take their word for it. We have for too long —and history has shown that the system is too easily manipulated.

The opportunity for a healthier New York State shouldn’t be wasted with Mr. Silver’s arrest.

Our elected leaders must be held accountable. Locally, they haven’t been quite yet. Mr. LaValle has refused to respond to phone and email requests for comment on Mr. Silver’s arrest and, with that, questions pertaining to how he earns his money and his firm’s action to block subpoenas and ethics issues in Albany in general. (Here was one question: Can you give us some recent examples of work you’ve done for them?)

Yet he’s found the time to issue statements on the 2014 Higher Education Legislative Report, among other items.

Mr. Zeldin said he was forced to resign from his position because members of Congress are not permitted to practice law. That might be a good policy for Albany to adopt.

Until Mr. Silver’s arrest, many concerns about state politics had fallen largely on deaf ears. That’s because the public hasn’t held state leaders more accountable at the voting booths. Sure, it may not carry the hyped-up drama and allure of national politics, but what happens in Albany, in so many ways, has more bearing on our lives.

The public must demand greater accountability from its state leaders — and a new system of government that works for the People, not the people in office.