As he toured New York State last year while running for attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman spoke with thousands of state residents, who kept hammering home the same point to him.
"The level of trust in government is really at an all-time low," the attorney general said. "To put it bluntly, the trust bank is empty."
To help fill that bank's coffers, Schneiderman came to Buffalo on Tuesday to announce that he's appointing a public integrity officer to serve in his regional office here, along with one in each of his 12 other regional offices across the state.
The idea is to provide taxpayers a local person to contact in order to report complaints of government corruption without fear of local politics influencing any investigation.
Schneiderman appointed Rose McMorrow, a four-year veteran of the Attorney General's Office here, to become the local point person for the new initiative. Since October 2007, she has handled cases in the office's Sex Offender Management Bureau.
Before joining the Attorney General's Office, McMorrow spent five years as an Erie County assistant district attorney prosecuting public corruption and white-collar criminal cases.
The attorney general outlined the types of cases that McMorrow could tackle: abuses of public funds by public officials, whether they're elected or appointed; pay-to-play schemes; abuses in dealings with non-profit agencies; and awarding of contracts to other than the most appropriate bidder.
"It's the basic stuff of public corruption," Schneiderman said. "This is just a matter of a more aggressive approach."
During Tuesday's news conference in his regional office in the Main Place Tower, Schneiderman was asked whether his new Public Integrity Bureau could investigate alleged Election Law violations that local prosecutors here have declined to investigate.
His office, he replied, doesn't have jurisdiction over Election Law violations.
Staffers later explained that the Attorney General's Office has limited jurisdiction to open up corruption cases. However, even if it can't initiate an investigation, it does have collaborative agreements with other agencies and can refer such cases to someone who can investigate them.
The attorney general also was asked whether he would be willing to go after any former Democratic colleagues from his days in the State Senate.
He noted that he headed a committee whose recommendation led to the ouster of former Sen. Hiram Monserrate.
"I have no reluctance to go after people in either party," he said.
Schneiderman has been making his way across the state to herald the new public integrity officers, and he believes the message is getting through to the public.
Anyone who wants to report such cases may call McMorrow at the regional office, 853-8400.