Political corruption is bad. And Albany’s latest mess, as detailed in the state inspector general’s report on the bungled attempts to steer the Aqueduct casino deal to wired developers, is truly rank. There may, however, be an upside to all this attempted thievery — particularly for Andrew Cuomo. The Aqueduct scandal alters the Albany dynamic in favor of the all-but-elected next governor: Republicans were already likely to regain control of the State Senate in next month’s elections, but the IG’s report could increase their margin and lead to criminal charges against John Sampson, the current Democratic conference leader. A Republican Senate majority would give Governor Cuomo a convenient political foil, and a (further) tarnished Democratic Senate minority should be happy to back Cuomo’s agenda.
(In a rational political state, the Aqueduct report, coming so close to Election Day, would be devastating to Brooklyn’s Sampson, who has wrung up one ethical transgression after another and fumbled his way through last year’s Senate coup. But Sampson was reelected in 2008 with an astounding 95 percent of the vote, and his Republican opponent this year, Rose Laney, is a cipher.)
Then there’s the State Assembly. Powerful Democratic speaker Sheldon Silver was already nervous about losing his veto-proof majority next week. The Aqueduct report is subtly damning of Silver, which probably won’t hurt his members all that much in Tuesday’s election, but the ongoing investigation could weaken Silver and motivate him to deal more readily with Cuomo in hopes of restoring his reputation. And the legislature as a whole, already deeply weary of being demonized, could greet the new governor’s arrival as an opportunity to work toward the greater good for a change. Cuomo, smartly, had already been planning to give legislators some wins instead of beating up on them Spitzer-style; the Aqueduct fallout should make Albany Democrats, in particular, desperate for any small victories. Oh, don’t worry, there will be plenty of petty squabbling and brinkmanship over budget cuts. But Cuomo, already riding high from four years of leading corruption investigations as state attorney general, just got even stronger.