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Smith’s career shaped by large ambitions

A sketch shows Sen. Malcolm Smith (center l.) in federal court next to his attorney, Gerald Shargel, during an arraignment in White Plains. AP Photo/Elizabeth Williams
City Councilman Dan Halloran (l.) and state Sen. Malcolm Smith attend a street-renaming ceremony for the late Tom White. The two were arrested and charged in a bribery scam.
TimesLedger Newspapers

In the wake of state Sen. Malcolm Smith’s (D-Hollis) bribery scandal, Independent Democratic Conference leader Sen. Jeffrey Klein (D-Bronx) stripped the embattled lawmaker of his committee assignments and leadership position within the state’s coalition government and in a final blow suggested Smith step down from the perch from which he had long coveted positions of power.

Hours after Smith was arrested early Tuesday on charges he conspired to bribe Queens and Bronx Republican leaders in order to get on the GOP ticket in the mayoral race, Klein released a statement saying Smith’s participation in the alleged scheme had “breached the trust of the Independent Democratic Conference.”

“These are very serious allegations that, if true, constitute a clear betrayal of the public trust. As a result of these charges, I have made the decision to strip Sen. Smith of his committee assignments and of his conference leadership position,” Klein said in a statement.

“I trust that the U.S. attorney’s office will act expeditiously to resolve this matter and to ensure that justice is served,” he continued. “Finally, given the level of criminality alleged, I believe that Sen. Smith should seriously consider whether or not he can continue to effectively serve his constituents.”

After joining the IDC late last year in a power-sharing agreement with Senate Republicans, which kept the Democrats from having control over the upper chamber, Smith was rewarded with several committee assignments, including vice chair of the Senate Finance Committee and co-chair of the Senate’s Bipartisan Task Force on Sandy Recovery.

He was also appointed to the Transportation Committee, from which he allegedly promised to steer $500,000 to a Rockland County road project in order to finance his mayoral ambitions.

Southeast Queens’ Bishop Charles Norris, who was irate over Smith’s move to the IDC and at least once publicly called on him to resign, was less combative Wednesday when asked if he thought Smith should step down.

“I have to leave that for him,” Norris said. “Southeast Queens will have to recover from what he has been accused of doing.”

“It’s a sad situation for him and his family,” he added. “I know him and his family very well.”

Smith, who worked as a real estate developer prior to his political career, came up under the tutelage of the Rev. Floyd Flake, the influential southeast Queens minister and a former congressman.

Smith went to work in as a congressional aide in Flake’s office in 1986 and was eventually elected to the state Senate in 2000.

He rose to the height of Senate majority leader when Democrats took control of the upper house in 2009, but he was replaced by current Majority Coalition Co-leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) after the “Gang of Four” Democratic lawmakers staged a political coup that eventually ousted him from the leadership role despite his early cooperation. Three of the four — Sens. Carl Kruger, Hiram Monserrate and Pedro Espada — have been convicted of corruption.

Smith’s name has been mentioned in connection with other scandals, including a bid-rigging plot to land the Aqueduct Entertainment Group a multibillion-dollar contract for a racino in Queens and donations that allegedly disappeared from a non-profit Smith founded to help Hurricane Katrina victims.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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