Donald Trump won neither New York State nor Erie County in last month’s presidential election, but he did something Wednesday that all residents of this state can support: He asked U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara to stay on the job.
The federal prosecutor has been the scourge of New York’s infamously corrupt government. He has made a difference in Albany, winning convictions this year against the former speaker of the Assembly, Sheldon Silver, and the former majority leader of the Senate, Dean Skelos. Both are appealing their convictions and the substantial prison sentences they drew. And Bharara has cases still pending, at least one involving Erie County.
Yet, it was no sure thing Bharara would continue in his post after January’s inauguration of the new president. U.S. attorneys are appointed by the president and Bharara is a Democrat, appointed by President Obama in 2009. These prosecutors expect to be replaced when a new president takes office, especially when the new chief executive is of the other party.
And while there may have been a likelihood that Bharara would want to continue his mission of cleaning up state government – he is said to harbor political ambitions, himself – there was no guarantee he would stay on.
To the good fortune of New Yorkers who want to improve their state’s rotten reputation for rank, egregious corruption, the Republican Trump asked Bharara to continue his work, and Bharara readily agreed. The only people who could be upset are those who have attracted Bharara’s professional gaze.
Those people include several who are associated with the Buffalo Billion, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s ambitious and effective program to reignite the economy of Western New York. In a sweeping investigation that took in projects in Buffalo and Syracuse and whose targets had links to Cuomo,
Bharara’s office filed felony charges in September and followed up last month with indictments.
Those indicted include three executives of LPCiminelli, the Buffalo contracting company working on the RiverBend project in South Buffalo; former SUNY Polytechnic Institute President Alain Kaloyeros; Cuomo friend and confidante Joseph Percoco; and Todd Howe, a lobbyist connected to Cuomo. Howe has already pleaded guilty and is cooperating in the investigation. The other suspects have pleaded not guilty.
A change in leadership of the prosecutor’s office could easily have compromised those cases and could have interfered with any other investigations that may be – and probably are – underway.
Outside of New York State government, the announcement that Bharara would remain in his post drew cheers. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, the incoming Senate minority leader, said Trump asked him about Bharara, who once worked in the senator’s office. “I am glad they met and am glad Preet is staying on. He’s been one of the best U.S. attorneys New York has ever seen,” Schumer said.
Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group, a watchdog organization, was succinct. “Hallelujah,” he said.
We concur. Corruption is woven into the fabric of state government. The greed and self-dealing have been at a level unseen in most other states. Albany has repeatedly demonstrated its unwillingness to change on its own. Bharara is the person who has been needed and it’s a relief that he will continue his essential work.