By Bob Friedrich
In just the latest example of New York’s corrosive culture of corruption, former City Councilman Dan Halloran was found guilty of bribery and arranging other crooked schemes.
So brazen was the offense that it took a jury an hour and a half to convict. The case was prosecuted by Sikh-American Preet Singh Bharara, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. Since 2009, Bharara has been systematically tackling and dismantling what he described as “a show-me-the-money culture … that seems to pervade every level of New York government.”
In 2013, Bharara promised “we will continue pursuing and punishing every corrupt official we find.”
But he warned, “the public corruption crisis in New York is more than a prosecutor’s problem.”
Sadly, this has long been true in this city, where more politicians lose their legislative seats as a result of indictment or conviction than through the ballot box. It is a sad commentary on New York and its voters, who seem tone-deaf to the widespread corruption all around them.
In the past decade, more than 50 of New York’s elected officials have been convicted or indicted for criminal conduct — an astounding number — and more trials are on the way. State Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Jamaica), who is seeking re-election, is next in line with his trial set to begin shortly after Election Day.
What to do? With great fanfare, Gov. Andrew Cuomo established the Moreland Commission to expose and root out corruption. While publicly touting his commission in an orchestrated PR blitz, his staff did everything possible to tie its hands and keep its tentacles away from the governor and his supporters.
Started with lofty speeches and great promise, the Moreland Commission lasted less than a year and was killed by the governor with nary a peep. A commission that was supposed to uncover pay-to-play corruption and political malfeasance, left us still wondering what exactly state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) did to earn more than $650,000 last year from the personal injury law firm of Weitz & Luxenberg.
Silver has a history of fighting tort reform, which would cap the amounts collected by law firms such as Weitz & Luxenberg. Pay-to-play? The Moreland Commission might have answered that question, had it not met such an untimely demise.
Undeterred by Cuomo’s actions to quash the Moreland Commission, New York’s knight in shining armor, Bharara, ordered all Moreland Commission files to be delivered to his office and then put the governor’s staff on notice that all pertinent documentation must be archived.
In another unflinching act of fierce independence and integrity, Bharara instructed the governor’s staff to halt all conversations with former Moreland Commission members, as tampering with witness memories is a crime.
As the chief federal prosecutor in New York, Bharara follows in the footsteps of former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who once held the same position. He has proven to be a fearless and uncompromising champion of honesty and integrity.
The Sikh-American community and all New Yorkers can take great pride in Bharara, a Columbia law school grad who now is an equal-opportunity prosecutor, pursuing both Democratic and Republican lawbreakers with equal aplomb on a mission to eradicate political corruption in our city and state.
After last week’s conviction of Halloran, Bharara opined that the councilman was “in a crowded field of New York officials who are willing to sell out their offices for self-enrichment.”
Bharara vowed he would continue his “vigorous prosecution of political corruption to secure for the people of New York, regardless of party affiliation, what they deserve: the honest labors of their elected representatives.”
Perhaps New Yorkers can convince Bharara to run for mayor.
Where’s my “Hurrah for Bharara” button?
Bob Friedrich is president of Glen Oaks Village and a civic leader.