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New York Ethics: Corruption Crackdowns Rising In State

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is being cited for the state's new ethics crackdown.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is being cited for the state's new ethics crackdown.

New York politics is going through an ethics "cleanse" after receiving a failing grade in ethics enforcement earlier this year and a string of politicians being hit with ethics charges, including one state senator announcing her own indictment over the weekend. Since last year, a series of 10 current and former state lawmakers have become entangled in ethics-related troubles.

The renewed crackdown on ethics violations and corruption, started by Gov. Andrew Cuomo while he was the state attorney general, is being cited by some as the driving force behind the series of investigations launched by state agencies into lawmakers and at least two former governors.

"Even before Andrew Cuomo was governor, when he was attorney general, he said he'd be the sheriff of State Street and clean up ethics," Democratic political consultant Evan Stavisky told The Huffington Post. "He set the standard as attorney general and continued as governor."

Stavisky cited Cuomo's creation of the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, a reformed version of previous state ethics watchdogs with new powers to investigate state legislators.

In the last week, three high-profile ethics probes and arrests have hit New York City's state legislative delegations.

Assemblywoman Naomi Rivera (D-Bronx) is facing probes from five separate state, city and federal law enforcement agencies following a series of articles in the New York Post alleging she gave her boyfriend a part time job in her office and used a state funded non-profit to hire her former boyfriend and finance their dates before they broke up.

Last week, Assemblyman Vito Lopez, a powerful Brooklyn Democrat, was stripped of the housing committee chairmanship, his seniority and most of his staff budget after the ethics committee confirmed sexual harassment allegations against him.

And on Saturday morning, state Sen. Shirley Huntley (D-Queens) used an "emergency press conference" in front of her house to announce that she would be arrested and indicted Monday. State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman confirmed Huntley's announcement Monday with her arrest on charges of falsifying documents related to a non-profit she controlled and funded. Schneiderman had been investigating Huntley and her staff for months prior to the arrest.

In March, the Center for Public Integrity in Washington gave New York a failing grade for ethics enforcement as part of their State Integrity Investigation. The report ranked New York 37 among the 50 states, with an overall grade of D. New Jersey received the highest marks from CPI for the ability to prevent ethics violations, while eight states, including North Dakota and Michigan received failing grades. North Dakota lawmakers announced a new push for ethics reform last week in response to the CPI study.

The trio of recent incidents follow similar cases in the last year, including several current and former state legislators facing state and federal corruption trials. Gordon Witkin, managing editor at the Center for Public Integrity, said he believes the recent series of scandals has helped launch new enforcement in Albany.

"I think the degree of the situation in Albany in the last year or two resulted in some new push for ethics reform there and fairly broad based efforts to weed out the bad apples and get a new credible ethics enforcement regime," Witkin told HuffPost.

Stavisky said Cuomo and ethics-minded prosecutors helped push the issue and noted that more lawmakers have taken an interest, including expelling former state Sen. Hiram Monserrate in 2010 following domestic violence charges.

"Albany is doing a cleanse now, being helped by a governor committed to reform and federal prosecutors," he said, adding that he believes Cuomo's presence as governor will help keep the issue out front. "The only person with approval ratings in the realm of Andrew Cuomo is Derek Jeter. Andrew Cuomo is an all-star on the reform front."

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