MILL BASIN, Brooklyn — A reminder of corruption in New York State is none other than the ballot box on this Election Day, according to some political experts and voters. However, the approach to the problem made by some voters, as well as by the system as a whole, may indicate whether or not corruption will decrease,and the prospects do not look good.
One foreboding omen may be that Election Day happened to be the first day of trial for Sheldon Silver, the former New York State Assembly speaker. He faces federal corruption charges based on accusations that he used his state government position to procure private business for his law firm.
Silver has pled not guilty and is officially running for re-election to his Lower Manhattan assembly seat. His is one of a handful of state-level races involving a current or recently resigned legislator who was convicted of or indicted for a crime.
"We don't know all the details," said Mill Basin resident Marie Cuna minutes after casting her vote for state senate, "but, whoever is replacing him, we hope that person works to better the community and those in need."
She was referring to her recently resigned state senator, John L. Sampson, the former senate minority leader, who was convicted last July for lying to federal investigators and other charges in a case involving the illegal sale of foreclosed homes.
Another Mill Basin resident, Jessie Yen, also cast her vote Tuesday in Sampson's former district on the southern coast of Brooklyn. "People who did something wrong, they should get punishment," she told PIX11 News. "Hopefully, this new [election winner] will be clean."
Sampson, meanwhile, is awaiting sentencing for his crimes. He faces up to 10 years in federal prison.
"Everybody makes mistakes," said Flatbush voter Brian Phillip, about Sampson's potential sentence. "I don't think, since he did something nonviolent, and not so over the top, that he [should] get the maximum sentence."
That sort of sentiment -- that an elected official, even though convicted of crooked dealings, is still worthy of leniency -- is common among voters, according to Baruch College political science professor Thomas Halper. He said that attitude can contribute to corruption being perpetuated, because it discourages greater oversight of legislators' dealings.
"It's hard to see how we can overcome it," Halper told PIX11 News in an interview, "because legislators have so little visibility. They can do pretty much anything."
He said that the lack of oversight is so severe that wrongdoing by New York elected officials has become epidemic. "Here in New York, we have such a flowering of corrpution that no longer can we look down our noses at Louisiana, New Jersey and Massachusetts, but now we're really up there with the big boys."
To be precise, there are four New York legislative races this Election Day in which the seat was vacated by someone convicted of or indicted for a crime.
There's a further issue that's clear on the ballot: a lack of variety of candidates. Most people up for election on Tuesday were running for judgeships. A noteworthy number of them were nominated by both the Democratic and the Republican parties.
"Most of those candidates would say that they were so qualified that both parties couldn't help but nominate them," Halper said. But he cautioned that another important aspect of democracy is competition, which is lacking when both parties back a candidate.
"If you have no competition," said Halper, "then again, you have a terrific opportunity for corruption."