ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — The Jan. 2, 2007, front-page headline of Newsday captured the promise of a new, shining era for New York a day after reformer Eliot Spitzer was inaugurated as governor: \”Let\’s clean up this mess.\”

\”We are in danger of losing the confidence of those who elected us,\” said Spitzer back then, after winning a historic 69 percent of the vote.

In the two years that followed, Albany fell into an unprecedented ethical slide:

—Spitzer\’s top aides were accused of misusing state police and state aircraft records to discredit Senate\’s Republican leader Joseph Bruno.

—Assemblyman Anthony Seminerio of Queens was accused of trying to intimidate two people who resisted his demands that they hire him as a consultant, a nearly $1 million side job.

—Bruno is accused of using his public post to pocket $3.2 million.

—Comptroller Alan Hevesi, who pleaded guilty in 2007 to misusing state employees, is part of a growing corruption investigation involving the state pension fund.

—Several legislators face outstanding campaign fines and claims.

—Two senators face assault charges.

—Spitzer resigned amid a prostitution scandal.

—The administration of his successor, Gov. David Paterson, is being investigated for a press leak of unsubstantiated rumors about Caroline Kennedy after she abruptly withdrew from the governor\’s process to appoint a U.S. senator.

—On Wednesday, Inspector General Joseph Fisch said the executive director of the Spitzer-created Public Integrity Commission should be fired for leaking information to the Spitzer administration in 2007 during the Bruno-state police scandal.

Now, good-government groups say the reform needs reform.

\”There have been lots of bad things that happened in Albany, but the period from December 2006 through May of 2009 has been the worst period I\’ve seen,\” said Blair Horner, who has been working Albany for the New York Public Interest Research Group for 25 years.

\”It\’s really been a terrible run for the Spitzer agenda,\” Horner said Thursday. \”He came in and his three big reforms in 2007 were budget reform, ethics reform and campaign finance reform. Campaign finance didn\’t happen, the budget process is more closed than ever, and the ethics reform is unraveling.\”

Even Paterson agrees. He called on the Public Integrity Commission members, the counsel and executive director to resign. But the commission, fighting the accusations against it, refuses to go away, saying that proves their independence and integrity.

Good-government advocates say Albany also needs a relentless, nonpartisan watchdog like former lobbying chief David Grandeau, who was forced out in Spitzer\’s 2007 overhaul of ethics.

\”Clearly, when Mr. Spitzer set up this Public Integrity Commission, one of his goals was to get rid of Mr. Grandeau,\” said Barbara Bartoletti of the League of Women Voters. \”I believe it was a personal thing between them.\”

Officially, Grandeau ended his tenure as executive director of the state Temporary Commission on Lobbying because Spitzer wanted to merge all the ethics boards under one more powerful board. His Public Integrity Commission was to regulate lobbying as well as ethical behavior of the executive and legislative branches. But the Legislature refused to join in, saying it would violate the separation of powers of the two branches of government.

Grandeau said Thursday he\’s not seeking a return to the job in which he took on the Philip Morris Inc. tobacco company, Donald Trump, the New York Yankees and the American Civil Liberties Union, infuriating politicians — including Spitzer and Bruno — along the way.

\”I\’ve been in this game a long time and learned from a lot of pretty bright politicians — most of whom don\’t talk to me anymore — that you never say \’never,\’\” said Grandeau, now in private law practice. \”If someone asks, you have to think about public service. But I\’m not out there campaigning for it, believe me.\”

Today, the Legislature still investigates ethical claims against its own members and the Public Integrity Commission, dominated by the governor\’s appointee, investigates the executive branch.

Few are betting Albany will change the system of foxes watching the foxes.

\”I think if the Legislature has their way, and there is no pressure on them, nothing will happen,\” Bartoletti said.

But in Albany, pure force of personality can go a long way. On Wednesday, New Yorkers could see that in Fisch, a 76-year-old former judge with an investigative resume dating to the 1957 Apalachin gangland meeting near Binghamton that led to the first prosecutions of the Mafia.

Fisch, in the latest of big cases he\’s taken on in his first year, came down hard on the Public Integrity Commission.

\”He could be the exact right person to be there,\” Horner said. \”Albany may have a new sheriff in town.\”

___

Michael Gormley is the Albany, N.Y., Capitol editor for The Associated Press. He can be reached by e-mail at mgormley(at)ap.org.


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