A small group of Democratic New York senators who share majority control of the Senate with Republicans has kicked out one of its members who was charged in a federal corruption case.
Sen. Malcolm Smith's ban from the Independent Democratic Conference comes as a new poll shows state residents increasingly consider corruption a "very serious" problem in Albany and say Gov. Andrew Cuomo isn't handling it well.
IDC leader Jeff Klein said Wednesday that he stripped Smith of his leadership post after he was arrested two weeks ago. He said he also stopped the last check for most of Smith's annual leadership stipend, and then the IDC dropped Smith, of Queens, from the conference, which shares Senate control with the GOP. The sanctions came without speaking to Smith, who hasn't been convicted of a crime.
"Everyone deserves their day in court, but I think it was up to me as leader of the Independent Democratic Conference to act decisively and quickly," Klein said. "I have watched corruption and convictions and arrests over my career, unfortunately, in the Legislature and I didn't bode well for our democratic process. ... This was my opportunity to act as a leader and I think I did the right thing."
Smith declined to comment. He had been one of the Democrats' majority leaders during a brief and tumultuous term from 2008 to 2010 that prompted four Democrats to form the IDC. Smith is now without a Senate conference.
He posted a message on Twitter on Wednesday: "God know the heart."
Smith, who is black, joined the four-member IDC in December amid concerns about the lack of racial diversity in the conference that rules the Senate with Republicans. Before Smith joined, the IDC had three white men and a white woman, while the Republican conference was all white. The traditional Democratic conference has more than a dozen black and Latino senators.
Klein, Cuomo and the traditional Democratic conference in the Senate are pushing several proposals to address the federal corruption charges against Smith announced two weeks ago. They involve accusations of bribery surrounding elections and campaign financing.
A Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday finds 48 percent of New Yorkers see corruption as "very serious," the highest share since the poll began asking the question in 2003.
New Yorkers said Cuomo is responsible for cleaning up Albany, as he pledged in his 2010 campaign, but 52 percent said he was doing a "not so good" or "poor" job.
Cuomo's spokesman wouldn't comment.
The poll also found 75 percent of those surveyed gave the Legislature the same low grade.
"The people are fed up," said Maurice "Mickey" Carroll of the Quinnipiac poll. "They don't like the pictures of their lawmakers in handcuffs, and they think it's the governor's job to clean up."
Yet, "They do feel Albany is about the same as everywhere else ... but the fact is, it's not the same everywhere else."
The poll questioned 1,404 voters from April 9-14. It has a margin of error of 2.6 percentage points.