Silver conviction is another case for Preet

Posted May 15, 2018 6:57 a.m. EDT

ALBANY, N.Y. _ The man who should be New York's next attorney general _ that would be Preet Bharara _ grew only more qualified with last week's conviction of former Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver.

Bharara, of course, was the federal prosecutor who first investigated the Manhattan Democrat and discovered Silver was selling the power of his office to the tune of $4 million. It was Bharara who oversaw Silver's initial conviction before being fired by Donald Trump.

"The evidence was strong," Bharara said on Twitter when an appeals court later vacated Silver's guilty verdict. "The Supreme Court changed the law. I expect Sheldon Silver to be retried and re-convicted."

Bharara was proved right with time, and Silver's latest conviction again proves what only becomes more obvious: State government is a snake's den of corruption, and New York needs an independent, proactive attorney general who is willing to look under rocks.

But an independent AG is not what the state's political leaders want, not by a long shot. Witness Gov. Andrew Cuomo declaring that he intends to interview Democrats who want to run for the office.

"I'm going to sit down and meet with them because I want to have a substantive conversation on issues, policies, et cetera," the governor said Sunday in an interview with NY1.

Swell. We know that a candidate who seems a bit too, you know, ambitious won't get Cuomo's nod. The governor seems to lack the self-awareness needed to realize that a prospective AG who gets his blessing would instantly be tarnished.

Marc Molinaro, the presumptive Republican nominee in the upcoming governor's race, was right to call Cuomo's election meddling "a gross violation of separation of powers." Molinaro noted that the interviews are especially inappropriate given that the AG's office has been involved in the upcoming pay-to-play case involving former SUNY Poly head Alain Kaloyeros.

"Is it any wonder (Cuomo) presides over the most corrupt government in America?" Molinaro asked. "Attorney general candidates who do accept the interview should be disqualified."

Bravo! Finally, a gubernatorial candidate who truly wants an independent attorney general!

Or maybe not.

From Ken Lovett's column in the Daily News, we learned that Molinaro's campaign has reached out to Bharara to suggest that the pair come together as a fusion ticket for the November election.

Think about that.

In Trump's home state, the Republican candidate for governor is hoping to run with a former prosecutor, a Democrat, who was fired by the president and would no doubt appeal to voters as a potential Trump foil. That's the role Eric Schneiderman was playing before that damning article in The New Yorker forced his resignation.

Still, Molinaro's idea makes sense, in a way, because he and Bharara would each target Cuomo's atrocious record on ethics. They would each talk about Joe Percoco and ziti. They might both even point out that the governor's upstate economic development efforts, including the troubled Buffalo Billion, seem to have prioritized campaign donations over actually fixing the region's economy.

In short, if you'll excuse the Trumpism, they would each be running drain-the-swamp campaigns, and the Capitol is certainly a swamp worth draining. The place is all but teeming with anacondas and alligators.

But there's a problem Molinaro seems not to have considered: If Bharara teamed with him, he would be no more independent than a candidate who teams with Cuomo.

The suggestion here isn't that Molinaro would be as ethically problematic a governor as Cuomo has proven to be. He wouldn't. But the attorney general should be independent of whomever is governor.

Bharara was never going to go for the idea, anyhow, and not only because running with a Republican would cost him more votes in New York than it would net him. Molinaro needs Bharara and his outsized reputation considerably more than Bharara needs Molinaro.

It isn't clear that Bharara will even run, although the Westchester County resident has yet to rule out doing so. On a recent episode of his podcast, Bharara made his reservations clear.

"I don't know that I want that job," he said. "I've said many, many times (that) politics is not my cup of tea."

Good. New York doesn't need an attorney general who swills political tea. The state needs an independent AG who is willing to punch corruption in the jaw and has experience doing so. You know, someone like a former prosecutor who once saw how Shelly Silver was doing things and realized that something was terribly wrong.

Contact columnist Chris Churchill at 518-454-5442 or email cchurchill(at)timesunion.com

Capitol Broadcasting Company's Opinion Section seeks a broad range of comments and letters to the editor. Our Comments beside each opinion column offer the opportunity to engage in a dialogue about this article.

In addition, we invite you to write a letter to the editor about this or any other opinion articles. Here are some tips on submissions >> SUBMIT A LETTER TO THE EDITOR