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Voters say term limits cut graft: Poll

TimesLedger Newspapers

New York voters have had enough with dishonest elected officials and believe term limits could help curb corruption in politics, a Siena College poll found.

Voters responded with skepticism when asked if they saw the state Legislature as a hub for foul play, underscoring a recurring theme as prosecutors have rounded up various elected officials on corruption charges.

Earlier this month, City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) and state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Hollis) were arrested on bribery and corruption charges while allegedly attempting to rig the upcoming mayoral election in the senator’s favor.

Just in Queens alone, a growing list of leaders — including former Assemblyman Jimmy Meng, former Sen. Shirley Huntley, Queens Republican operative John Haggerty, late Assemblyman Anthony Seminario, former Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin, former Assemblyman and former state Comptroller Alan Hevesi and former Councilman Hiram Monserrate — have been placed in handcuffs on charges ranging from fraud to bribery.

“Clearly, the recent arrests have eroded confidence in the Legislature,” said Siena College pollster Steven Greenberg. “In fact, voters are closely divided with 50 percent saying most legislators are honest and law-abiding and 47 percent saying most cannot be trusted.”

More than 80 percent of voters surveyed expected even more state legislators to be arrested in the near future. But the Smith case ironically did little damage to his ratings, the poll showed, with only a 2 percent increase in voters who viewed him as unfavorable compared to before his arrest.

When it came to deciding on how to address the problem, Greenberg said voters were torn on where to look first.

According to the poll, half of those surveyed thought reforming the electoral process would help fight government corruption, while the other half considered focusing more on law enforcement.

One thing most voters did agree on, however, was the adoption of term limits through all levels of government with more than 80 percent in favor, the poll said.

Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) has been a long supporter of term limits as a means to reduce political corruption and has introduced legislation aimed at instituting 12-year caps for senators and Assembly members.

“Politicians who serve for countless years tend to become stagnant, arrogant and reluctant to adopt new ideas,” Avella said. “Entrenched senior legislators become less concerned with taking on controversial issues and doing the public’s business in favor of cementing their stranglehold on office and gaining leadership positions. This creates an arrogance that eventually leads to the dysfunction and corruption that has become synonymous with Albany.”

Results also showed voters were heavily in favor of limiting candidates to only one party line and making the Legislature full-time to prevent outside jobs from influencing government.

But that is not to say voters had lost faith in governance, as the poll showed 62 percent were confident Gov. Andrew Cuomo would be successful in pushing through legislative reforms to clean up the system.

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at pcorso@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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