Analysis: Transparency in Albany Remains an Elusive Goal

History shows that holders of high office are most inclined to conduct business in secrecy

By Gabe Pressman
|  Wednesday, Aug 29, 2012  |  Updated 6:26 PM EDT
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Under fire for authorizing the secret payment of $103,000 of taxpayer money to settle a sexual harassment claim, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver now admits it was wrong.

It was wrong, the leader of Assembly Democrats said, “from the perspective of transparency.”

Governor Cuomo, who promised to create the most transparent government in history, can’t be happy about this admission by his partner in government and fellow Democrat.

History shows that holders of high office are most inclined to conduct business in secrecy. And they resent the prying eyes of journalists who want to find out what’s been happening behind the curtain. 

In the wake of the resignation of Assemblyman Vito Lopez as Brooklyn Democratic boss, both the Governor and the Speaker are somewhat belatedly asking for openness.  “Let’s have the facts,” Cuomo said. “If the facts are true about Mr. Lopez and the incidents of harassment, I think he should resign.“

Lopez refused to quit, denying the accusations of sexual harassment of two women on his staff.  Cuomo said the charges are “really troubling” and demanded an investigation by the state’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics.

Somehow, a scene from the movie classic “Casablanca” comes to mind, when the Chief of Police feigns astonishment that gambling is going on in his city. He orders his staff to “round up the usual suspects.”

Corruption in Albany? It might be hard to believe except for the parade of politicians who have been arrested, tried and jailed in the last few years.

Lopez is just the latest disgrace. He may or may not be guilty of criminality but he joins a very long line of politicians who have been accused of besmirching the office.

On the issue of openness in government, Cuomo doesn’t conduct any state business on a state email account or through his personal email. He prefers to make phone calls and use the pin messaging system from his BlackBerry cellphone. Is this paranoia or just a desire for privacy?

Are the actions of Speaker Silver and the governor in the interests of transparency in government?  One reform advocate, Bill Mahoney of State NYPIRG in Albany, told me that people in state government have been “pushing for a raise.”  Unless, he says, “they do a lot more to ensure that the processes of government are more transparent they may not succeed by claiming to have basically reformed Albany.”

As reverberations of Albany’s latest scandals are heard in the land, the capital city presents a murky scene. Transparency still seems like an elusive goal.

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