Michael McMahon will take office as Staten Island’s district attorney at the beginning of next month, but when it comes to cleaning up the state’s scandal-plagued government the Democrat is looking back to his time in the New York City Council.
“What we had in the City Council wasn’t perfect, and there were cases of corruption and crimes, but generally speaking it was a much more transparent legislative body,” McMahon told City & State. “I think if you as a reporter wanted to find what my budget was, where my money was going, who all was working for me, you could find all that out, and my actions, I think, were much more transparent. There’s a fog that sits over Albany, I think, that the people don’t exactly what’s going on.”
Albany has been buffeted by a string of high-profile corruption scandals, culminating in the felony recent convictions of former Senate majority leader, Dean Skelos, and former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.
“It is very disconcerting that two of three leaders of our state government have been convicted of multiple felonies over the last few days,” McMahon said, adding, “What happens in Albany is I think that people go up there and they think somehow they’re above the law, they’re somehow isolated.”
McMahon pointed to New York City’s campaign finance reform program and its adoption of terms limits as models that could be adopted in the state. He also suggested that decentralizing power in the state Legislature would help make state government more functional.
However, he said his Staten Island office would need more resources if it were to pursue state-level corruption cases. Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, has spearheaded a series of federal investigations into Albany and secured a number of convictions, prompting some to question why other prosecutors have been on the sidelines.
“Some of the larger offices have public corruption units where they’re able to investigate and go after cases like this,” McMahon said. “Unfortunately, the Staten Island office that we’re going to assume Jan. 1, because of its very low budget, because of its limited resources, we don’t quite have the availability to do all that work. So in those cases it’s good that the federal government comes in with its resources and with its team of people to go after cases that maybe the local people can’t go after.”
McMahon said that the more pressing issues he would tackle as district attorney are the borough’s ongoing struggle with heroin abuse and a spike in domestic violence.
“Every crime is a pressing issue, but we have a terrible drug crisis on Staten Island. We have a terrible domestic violence, aggravated assaults are up,” he said. “These are things that we need to deal with, first and foremost.”