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Voter indifference allows a culture of corruption to thrive in Albany

New Yorkers in general are known as an apathetic lot on many public policy issues. But a recent poll showing that voters in the Empire State have paid little attention to developments about Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s disbanded Moreland Commission takes such indifference down to new lows.

Not paying attention to the workings of government will have one sure result: nothing will change. And that means it will be business as usual for Albany’s culture of corruption.

Perhaps the doggedness of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara of Manhattan as he persists in his investigation will focus attention on the matter. That won’t be easy to accomplish in this age of video games and reality TV, but it will be worth the effort if it results in such necessary changes as greater transparency, solid ethics reform, campaign finance reform and nonpartisan redistricting.

The New York Times reported three weeks ago that the Cuomo administration repeatedly interfered with the commission’s work. The Times piece contended the governor’s office compromised the Moreland Commission’s work by objecting whenever it focused on groups or issues close to Cuomo.

The governor strenuously denies any such interference and insists that the commission, made up of prosecutors, ran independently. Backing the governor is Moreland Co-chairman William J. Fitzpatrick, the Republican district attorney of Onondaga County, who insists there was no interference from Cuomo.

Bharara is undeterred by the administration’s protestations. Good for him. Whatever the outcome, it is not fair to voters, taxpayers and all residents of New York to have even a faint cloud of doubt hanging over the head of their governor. Not that most people have noticed.

The Siena Research Institute poll found that 86 percent of New Yorkers believe corruption in state government is “very serious” or “somewhat serious.” However, despite that seemingly overwhelming interest in the issue, two-thirds of voters polled said they were not familiar with the Moreland Commission or its work.

Siena pollster Steven A. Greenberg surmises that if the topic doesn’t have to do with people’s everyday lives, then it is unlikely to register.

Kevin R. Hardwick, a Canisius College political science professor and a Republican member of the Erie County Legislature, contrasted the complexity of the issue with other scandals: “Watergate was a burglary. Chris Christie was forcing commuters to wait in traffic for three hours. … Moreland is a lot more complicated and a lot more difficult for most people to grasp what they were looking into.”

Complicated, but voters should see it as an opportunity to see into the inner workings of a political system that adversely affects their everyday lives. They should demand substantive changes in the way Albany works, changes that will return real power to the voters and away from special interests.

Politicians ultimately take their cues from voters. Apathy is the wrong signal to send.