Fed Probe of Legislature Raises Race Question


It’s a glaring aspect of the most talked about issue in Albany’s burgeoning public corruption investigation that few are willing to raise publicly: Is the federal corruption sting rocking New York politics singling out black and Latino politicians? Experts and many lawmakers acknowledge it may appear that way but it’s not the case.

So far, in a Legislature where minorities have long been underrepresented, the five figures who have been charged and eight who have been caught on FBI surveillance wires in the last five weeks are all black or Latino.

“I would hate to think that as black and Hispanic leaders … we would be targeted to weed out corruption only in our backyards and that we would be held to a higher standard than the non-black and Hispanic leaders,” Sen. Ruben Diaz Jr., a Bronx Democrat, said.

But in years past, the federal investigation largely ensnared whites. Senate Democratic leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the first black woman to run a New York legislative conference, argues that corruption is cyclical, not racial.

“People are going to think what they think, but it’s important to understand that what is going on in Albany transcends race, gender or party,” Stewart-Cousins said. “While this current wave has involved mostly people of color, prior to this it captured people across the aisle who were not people of color.”

The clearest delineation, which may not be obvious to the general public, is which U.S. attorney’s office is handling the cases. The big cases from 2009 to 2011 were handled by federal prosecutors upstate and in the suburbs, where most politicians are white.

The current corruption cases are handled by U.S. attorney’s offices in New York City, where minority politicians prevail. The U.S. attorney for the southern New York district who came out with the first charges in these arrests of racial minorities is Preet Bharara. He was born in India and was appointed by President Barack Obama.

Logically and demographically, the racial breakdown in federal corruption investigations has roughly mirrored the racial makeup of their jurisdiction. But the concern for many is that recurring news video, known as B-roll, and newspaper photos will likely show images of the recently embattled black and Latino lawmakers.

And, Stewart-Cousins said, complaining would badly miss the point.

“Clearly this is affecting everyone,” she said. “We have to take this opportunity of outrage and use it to pass some real reforms to change the culture of Albany.”

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