By the Editorial Board:
New York voters seldom get the chance to take a real whack at cleaning out their scandal-rotted Legislature. That rare opportunity arrives on April 19, the state’s presidential Primary Day, which also features special elections to replace two once-mighty politicians who were convicted of corruption last year, Dean Skelos and Sheldon Silver. The winners’ terms last only until the end of 2016. For full terms, they and other challengers would have to run in the primary and the general election later this year.
Mr. Skelos, the Republican who led the Senate, and Mr. Silver, speaker of the Democrat-controlled Assembly, were for years two of the three most powerful men in Albany. Even as they wait, disgraced, to be sentenced for multiple felonies, their old allies are scheming to make sure the Legislature does not change too much now that they’re gone.
Voters, it is time to shout No. No more manipulators, hacks and cronies. No more disciples of the status quo who promise to reform the state government but never do.
Luckily, there are choices this time. In Mr. Skelos’s former district in Nassau County, the Democratic candidate is Todd Kaminsky, an assemblyman who, as a former federal prosecutor, seems miraculously well-suited for this moment. He understands Albany’s sick culture, having helped to convict many of the state’s most corrupt legislators before entering politics. One notable target was Pedro Espada Jr., the former senator, now in prison for stealing from a nonprofit organization in the Bronx. Mr. Kaminsky, who has also built a strong record advocating for Hurricane Sandy victims in Long Beach, his hometown, vows to be a full-time lawmaker with a keen focus on ethics.
Pretty much all you need to know about Mr. Kaminsky’s opponent,Christopher McGrath, is that he was handpicked for this race by Joseph Mondello, boss of the Nassau Republican Party, the tainted machine that spawned Mr. Skelos. Mr. McGrath, a genial lawyer who has never run for office before, talks about ethics reform, but it is impossible to take him seriously, given the team he is playing for. He opposes, for example, strictly limiting outside income, so that lawmakers would focus on serving the public interest, not their own. This should be a red flag to voters who remember that lucrative side careers were how both Mr. Skelos and Mr. Silver so easily abused their power and enriched themselves.
The race to replace Mr. Silver, in Lower Manhattan, has had unsavory twists. Although Mr. Silver’s days as a power broker are supposed to be over, his wife, his friends and a former aide managed to overpower the candidate-selection process earlier this year and maneuver a Silver apologist onto the Democratic ballot. Their choice, Alice Cancel, is a district leader who shows little enthusiasm for cleaning up the culture in which Mr. Silver thrived.
The Working Families Party picked a far better candidate: Yuh-Line Niou. Ms. Niou, who worked for nonprofit groups and as a legislative aide in Washington State, fighting predatory lending, has been chief of staff to a Queens assemblyman. Her fluent Mandarin would serve her well in Chinatown, an underserved part of the district, as would her experience as an advocate for the elderly and poor.
Special elections in New York are notoriously inside jobs, with party leaders routinely picking new people as bad as the old. Instead of putting up with this practice, voters in Nassau should choose Todd Kaminsky for the Senate, and those in Manhattan should choose Yuh-Line Niou for the Assembly.