At this time of year, baseball fans keep an eye on the calendar, counting the days until pitchers and catchers report for spring training. An equivalent exercise for followers of New York government is tracking the trial dates for politicians accused of first-degree possession of sticky fingers.
The state and its capital have long been playgrounds for the ethically challenged, but this year is a “scandal-palooza” of criminal cases, to borrow from Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group. So mark your calendars for these corruption trials. You can’t tell the players without a scorecard:
February: George Maziarz, a former state senator. March: Edward Mangano, a former Nassau County executive. April: former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, retried, having been denied a review of his case last week by the United States Supreme Court. May: Alain Kaloyeros, a former state university executive. June: Dean Skelos, former State Senate majority leader, also a retrial. July: Assemblywoman Pamela Harris of Brooklyn, indicted this month on charges that include profiteering from Hurricane Sandy by falsely claiming it displaced her from her home.
But first up is Joseph Percoco, long a loyal aide and friend to Gov. Andrew Cuomo. He and three others go on trial Monday in federal court in Manhattan, charged with pocketing bribes from companies looking for state contracts. It’s alleged that in emails Mr. Percoco referred to the money as “ziti,” a term of art gleaned from “The Sopranos.” With those contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars, an awful lot of ziti was at stake.
No one has suggested untoward behavior by Mr. Cuomo. But it’s hard to see how he avoids getting mud on his pants, given his closeness to Mr. Percoco, who is accused of enriching himself while using his state position to help companies seeking a healthy slice of multibillion-dollar upstate projects. The governor has also been close to a key witness implicated in the scheme, Todd Howe, and to Mr. Kaloyeros, whom he had given free rein to think up high-tech projects.
The governor is enjoying a 62 percent approval rating in a Siena College poll last week. Still, in an election year, corruption cases might hit close to home.
“These trials keep raising the same pay-to-play questions over and over again,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York.