Poll finds New Yorkers want more action against corruption

Apr 18, 2013

A poll finds New Yorkers are upset about recent corruption scandals in Albany, and think that Gov. Andrew Cuomo should take the lead to clean things up.

The Quinnipiac University poll finds that more New Yorkers than ever think government corruption is a very serious problem, following two high profile scandals in which a senator and assemblyman have been charged with bribery. Another assemblyman admitted to being a government informant and said he’d been wearing wire on and off for the past four years.

Pollster Mickey Carroll says concern among the public is the highest it’s been in a decade.

“New Yorkers don’t like to see pictures or read stories of their legislators in handcuffs,” Carroll said. “Corruption is a big problem, they say.”

Most think it’s up to Cuomo to clean things up, but so far, Carroll says, more than half -- 52 percent -- think he’s not doing enough. “People think that A, it’s his job, B he’s not doing that great a job,” Carroll said.

Though Carroll points out that Cuomo, overall, is doing relatively well in the poll with a 57 percent rating, though the governor’s popularity has declined by more than 15 percentage points in recent months, from a high of 74 percent in December 2012.

The governor seems aware that, even though he had nothing to do with the bribery scandals, he could ultimately be tainted by them. He says he’s pushing for reforms.

“I believe the newspaper headlines last week created a moment of opportunity,” Cuomo said.

Cuomo has been rolling out his anti-corruption agenda one step at a time. He first proposed that the state’s district attorneys be given more powers to go after corruption.  Next, he outlined changes to the state’s election laws, including installing a special enforcement unit at the state’s Board of Elections.  And he says he’s been talking with legislative leaders about campaign finance reform, including public financing of campaigns.

Achieving all of that may prove a challenge. Senate Republicans, who lead the Senate jointly with a group of break away Democrats, have consistently said they are not in favor of public campaign financing, and that allowing politicians to use taxpayer money for campaigns is not the answer. The Independent Democratic Conference, which co-leads the Senate, is for publicly funded campaigns.  

The Quinnipiac poll finds that most voters don’t think that public financing of campaigns will help clean up corruption, a number that supporters dispute.  

And the governor is even getting some pushback from Democrats in the Assembly over his proposals to give DAs more prosecutorial powers. The plan creates new crimes of bribery, scheming to corrupt the government and failure to report public corruption. The last proposal, which would require lawmakers and others to blow the whistle if they see or hear something about corruption, has been dubbed the, “if you see something, say something” provision.  Assembly Codes Committee Chairman Joe Lentol says writing such a law is problematic.

“You may hear something that sounds incriminating and you only heard half of it, and they may be talking about somebody else,” Lentol said. “I think it has to be clearly defined in order for us to act on a statute like that.”

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver agrees. “It wouldn’t be constitutional if you did it in such a way that it was really vague,” said Silver.

Silver and Assemblyman Lentol say they’ re open, though, to studying Cuomo’s proposals, once he provides details.

Democrats in the Assembly are with the governor on imposing a statewide public financing of campaigns, however. Now, Cuomo may just have to convince the Republicans in the Senate to get on board. The governor admits it’s not going to be easy.   

“I’m not underestimating the political difficulty of these things,” said Cuomo. “It’s a system that works for the political powers that be.”

But he says he’s cautiously optimistic that a deal on anti corruption measures can ultimately be reached.

The poll also found that approval of the legislature is at one of its lowest points ever, with less than a third saying lawmakers are doing a good job.