State Should Consider Leadership Term Limits

It’s good Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has relinquished his leadership post after federal corruption charges were lodged against him. New leadership untainted by scandal should help state government get on with its work in the short term.

However, in the long term, state officials must seriously consider term limits of some sort to help tackle corruption.

Silver, the longtime leader of the state Assembly, is giving up his speaker position following his arrest Jan. 22 by the FBI on federal charges that he took nearly $4 million in payoffs and kickbacks, crimes that carry up to 100 years in prison.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said Silver, a lawyer by training, lined up jobs at two firms and then accepted large sums of money over more than a decade in exchange for using his power to do political favors. Bharara said the money was disguised as “referral fees.”

Silver has maintained his innocence. He even planned to stay as speaker while he fought the charges, before apparently bowing to the pressure to resign from his leadership post.

It’s the right move. He is in no position to lead the state Assembly in budget discussions as he defends himself from the charges.

In the wake of all of this, though, state residents should not dismiss what happened as an isolated incident.

Since 2000, 28 New York lawmakers have left office because of criminal or ethical issues, according to an analysis by Citizens Union.

Despite years of scandals, Albany has been slow to clean up its act. Reform gets a lot of lip service – as it has again in the wake of the Silver scandal – but very little action actually is taken.

A change that may help would be to limit terms for leadership positions. By limiting the amount of power, the opportunities for corruption should be lessened.

If the Assembly had eight-year term limits for leadership positions like the state Senate established a few years ago, no one could accumulate power for 20 years the way Silver did.

Assemblyman Marc Butler, whose district includes Fulton County, noted in a legislative column Tuesday he and his colleagues are reintroducing the Public Officers’ Accountability Act. The bill would do many things, including setting term limits for leadership and committee chair positions.

People should take a look at the legislation. It may provide part of the cure for what ails state government.


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