Exclusive: Bill aims to block corrupt politicians from city office

New York City Councilman Francisco Moya at a January 2018 stated meeting.
New York City Councilman Francisco Moya at a January 2018 stated meeting.
John McCarten/New York City Council
New York City Councilman Francisco Moya at a January 2018 stated meeting.

Exclusive: Bill aims to block corrupt politicians from city office

Two New York City Council members are introducing a bill to keep certain felons off the ballot.
January 30, 2018

Two New York City Council members are introducing a bill that would ban corrupt politicians from seeking city office, hoping to prevent candidates like Hiram Monserrate from ever running again.

Monserrate was expelled from the state Senate in 2010 after being convicted of a misdemeanor for assaulting his girlfriend. In 2012, he was sentenced to two years in prison on felony corruption charges for misusing more than $100,000 when he served in the New York City Council. He’s since tried to return to elected office, failing in a 2016 run for district leader, and losing a Democratic primary for his old Queens City Council seat in 2017.

“How the hell is this guy allowed to run?” said New York City Councilman Francisco Moya, who beat Monserrate in the primary last fall and went on to win his seat. “That was the question that we got from every person that we met.”

Moya and New York City Councilman Ritchie Torres of the Bronx plan to introduce a bill on Wednesday that would keep people like Monserrate from running by barring anyone from office who has a felony conviction for certain state and federal crimes like public corruption, bribery and wire fraud.

“Once you betray the public trust, you have no business serving in public office,” Torres told City & State. “Public office is a privilege, not an entitlement. It should be a privilege reserved for those whose public life has been free of corruption.”

Torres came up with the idea for the legislation while campaigning with Moya against Monserrate, whose campaign received more than $100,000 in public funds from New York City’s campaign finance system.

“The use of campaign matching funds to subsidize a corrupt candidacy like that of Hiram Monserrate is arguably the most egregious misallocation of taxpayer dollars in New York City,” Torres said.

Feeling targeted by Torres, Monserrate questioned the bill’s legality.

"Although we appreciate the young man's zeal, I'd recommend he thoroughly review the constitutionality of this proposed bill,” Monserrate said in a statement provided to City & State. “I have been advised by legal counsel that this measure may not pass constitutional muster."

The legal history for similar statutes is mixed. A law banning felons from running for office in Illinois was upheld in 2014. A similar law in Louisiana was recently overturned, but that was on a technicality rather than on the law’s merits. A New York state Senate bill to ban corrupt officials from office for 10 years has never made it out of committee.

New Yorkers cannot vote while in prison, but regain voting rights when released from parole. They can also run for Congress – former Bronx Rep. Mario Biaggi ran and lost in 1992 after a federal corruption conviction, and former Rep. Michael Grimm is attempting to win back his Staten Island seat after serving time in prison.

Monserrate also accused Torres of hypocrisy, saying that “the message of this bill is inconsistent with the progressive position of not creating additional barriers to returning citizens.”

Torres co-sponsored the 2015 “Fair Chance Act” that banned job discrimination based on someone’s arrest record. Moya voted in favor of a similar bill while serving in the Assembly.

Torres said there should be few barriers to public office, but “it’s reasonable to expect, at a minimum, candidates whose public life has been untainted by corruption.”

Moya agreed, saying, “Redemption is about looking for forgiveness and doing other things. It doesn’t mean that you automatically come back to the same seat that you stole $100,000 from.”

Jeff Coltin
is a staff reporter at City & State. He covers New York City Hall.
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