By Tony Farina, The Niagara Falls Reporter
Assemblyman John Ceretto (D – Lewiston) says the conviction of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on federal corruption should be a call to arms to state lawmakers to abandon the political culture of Albany that Silver used as his defense and work hard to restore the public’s trust in government.
Ceretto, a former Republican who switched parties last August, is also planning to reach across the political aisle to discuss Republican State Sen. Robert Ortt’s legislative bid to try and triple the City of Niagara Falls’ share of slot machine profits from the Seneca casino from 25 percent to 75 percent.
Ortt, from North Tonawanda, says the time to increase the share of the profits going to Niagara Falls is at hand, given the state’s anticipated $1 billion surplus next year. Under the current casino compact revenue sharing formula, which expires at the end of next year, the state takes 75 percent of the casino profits, leaving 25 percent for the city.
Ceretto stopped short of endorsing Ortt’s plan, but says he has supported legislation in the past to increase the minimum percentage of casino revenue dedicated to Niagara Falls, and he issued the following statement to the Niagara Falls Reporter:
“On the surface, the senator’s plan is in line with my continued commitment to secure more funding for our area, and it echoes my view that our local government deserves a larger share of revenue.”
Ceretto added that increased revenue would help the city’s ongoing revitalization and in his statement said “I have reached out to the senator’s office for more information, and I look forward to reviewing the details and specifics of his proposal to see if it is the best option for our community. As always, my door is open and I look forward to working with my colleague to ensure our region gets its fair share.”
In a statement on Silver’s conviction, Ceretto said “this year the Assembly created the Office of Ethics and Compliance to strengthen legislative ethics and increase transparency and accountability within the chamber. However our work is not done. I’ll continue to fight to strip taxpayer-funded pensions from public officials convicted of corruption and to close the LLC loophole to reduce the influence of big money in politics. New Yorkers deserve representatives who serve the people, not their own interests.”
Ceretto’s comments follow Silver’s corruption conviction after a federal court trial during which, according to reports in the New York Times, his lawyers argued he was operating within the political culture of New York, “and that is the system New York has chosen,” one defense lawyer said. Ceretto and others say it is time to change that culture.
Meanwhile, a second federal corruption trial involving another Albany political kingpin, State Sen. Dean Skelos, is continuing in Manhattan as Silver and his son, Adam, face charges of lining the pockets of their family using Dean Skelos’ influence in an eight-count indictment alleging bribe solicitation, extortion under the cover of political right, conspiracy to commit extortion, and conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud.
Silver and Dean Skelos, the former Senate majority leader, wielded enormous power in their positions and along with the governor made up the three-men-in-a-room triumvirate that controlled state government years. The defense of just doing what always has been done didn’t work for Silver, and Skelos and his son also face very damaging evidence from phone taps where they were allegedly recording planning their money grabs in exchange for political influence.