By Rich Bockmann
Nearly two weeks after he was accused of trying to bribe his way into Gracie Mansion as a Republican, state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Hollis) returned to Albany Monday and was kicked out of the Independent Democratic Conference.
Smith, who joined the IDC in December in a controversial move that wrested power from Senate Democrats, was booted by Senate Co-leader Jeff Klein (D-Bronx) and his colleagues, according conference spokesman Eric Soufer.
A spokesman for the Democratic conference said Smith “categorically will not be welcome back.”
Klein also prevailed upon the state comptroller’s office to block a $9,375 bonus Smith was to receive this month for chairing the Senate Social Service Committee.
Following his arrest April 2, Smith was removed from his committees and his position as co-chairman of the Superstorm Sandy recovery task force, and Soufer said replacements to those posts would be forthcoming.
Federal prosecutors charged Smith with conspiring with City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) and Queens GOP Vice Chairman Vince Tabone in a bribery scheme to get the southeast Queens lawmaker onto the Republican line in the mayoral race.
Two days later, the feds arrested a Bronx state assemblyman and charged him with accepting bribes in exchange for writing favorable legislation.
Smith has since kept a pretty low profile, although his office did release a photo of the senator meeting Tuesday with members of the New York State Nurses Association.
The scandals kicked off renewed calls for ethics reform in Albany and spurred more distrust among voters.
A Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday showed 48 percent of respondents believe government corruption in the state is a “very serious” problem, up from 31 percent in December.
The scandal implicating Smith is the latest to cast a shadow over southeast Queens. Former Sen. Shirley Huntley is looking at serving two years in jail after she admitted to stealing taxpayer dollars and pleaded guilty to trying to cover up the scam.
Michael Krasner, an associate professor of political science at Queens College, takes Smith’s eventual trial and conviction as a given and said whoever replaces him will not find southeast Queens’ recent track record in corruption scandals too much of a burden in Albany.
“My guess is there will be initial skepticism, but I don’t think it’s going to be a major factor in people’s careers or their ability to represent their community,” he said. “As other elected officials and people get to know them and their performance, other individuals’ skepticism will wash away, assuming those people are capable and honest.”
Krasner said the most immediate fallout from all the political scandals will be disenfranchisement among voters.
“The broader implication is that more people will be convinced and have the idea reinforced that politics is a dirty business and no one should have anything to do with it, and that’s a self-fulfilling prophecy,” he said. “When honest people don’t get involved, it sets the stage for not-so-honest people to stay in power.”
Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4574.