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Restore integrity

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The mandate given the latest Moreland Commission to investigate public corruption in state government is welcome news. So far this year, the performance of the state Legislature has been abysmal. Many members have behaved like a small-minded squad of locker room boors who feel they are entitled to sexually molest women with immunity, to misappropriate state funds for their personal use, and find ever more creative ways to abuse the power of their office.

The leadership of the Senate and Assembly in essence ignored or at best covered up the behavior — especially in the Assembly, where state funds were used to pay off the victims of sexual abuse in return for their silence.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman jointly formed the “Commission to Investigate Public Corruption” based upon the Moreland Act and the executive law that allowed Mr. Schneiderman to give members of the commission the rank of a deputy attorney general. That allows the commission to investigate “public peace, public safety, and public justice.”

The new commission has an opportunity to initiate action that will lead to reform of public corruption law in the state, especially as it relates to the behavior of the Senate and Assembly and their leaders. With the power to subpoena and take testimony from witnesses under oath, the commission is limited only by the energy and enthusiasm of the commissioners to restore sane thought and transparency to ways of New York government.

The legislators brought this upon themselves when they ignored Gov. Cuomo’s proposals for reform. The governor told the Albany Times Union, “The situation has evolved over time. First, I was proposing comprehensive legislation; I thought that legislation could make a significant difference. That was unsuccessful. … I think we have arrived at where we are today as a function of those circumstances. It’s worse now. Read the newspapers. It’s been worse over the last few months, and I think we needed to take dramatic action.”

The new commission is made up of strong personalities from across the state. Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice joins Onondaga County District Attorney William J. Fitzpatrick and Milton L. Williams, a private-sector lawyer and former assistant U.S. attorney, as co-chairs.

Other notable names appointed are Derek P. Champagne, Franklin County’s district attorney for 11 years; J. Patrick Barrett, a native of Malone and former CEO of Avis Inc. and state Republican Party chairman; and P. David Soares, Albany County district attorney.

Just to be sure, the commission has plenty of investigatory strength with Joseph A. D’Amico, state police superintendent; Raymond W. Kelly, New York City’s police chief, and Robert M. Morgenthau, who for 34 years was the New York County district attorney, serving as special advisers.

The commission has the strength to rise above petty party politics and the good-old-boy network to examine the pervasive culture of the Legislature and propose change to help restore New Yorkers’ faith in their government. The appointment of a commission of this stature is a critical first step to reform.

The governor and attorney general provide hope for New Yorkers who are sick of secret payoffs, theft of public funds, backroom political chicanery, docile senators and members of the Assembly who act only as they are ordered by all-powerful leaders. The platform for reform is place. Now the commissioners must take action and develop a statewide legal structure based upon open and honest government.

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