So he tried it from the inside. A month after he stepped down from the senate in 2008, and shortly before he was indicted, Joe Bruno, 80, registered as a lobbyist for CMA Consulting, a company run by the widow of a former state senator with tens of millions in state contracts. It was not a late second career.

“I looked at what’s going on up on that hill,” said U.S. District Court Judge Gary Sharpe as he sentenced Bruno to two years in prison, “and I just shook my head.”

Inspector General Joseph Fisch’s 308-page report, released a week before election day, focused on “the locusts of lobbyists” that “descended on” Senate Democratic leaders to win the Aqueduct contract, the largest in state history. The report only briefly notes that it was Bruno who insisted that the franchise be awarded like none other, empowering the two legislative leaders to exercise executive power and pick the winner, together with the governor.

Caleb Ferguson
The calm before the storm.
Caleb Ferguson
The calm before the storm.

Leave it to Feathers to attest to what the IG report said was a “common sentiment.” He testified that the unusual arrangement “came from my friend Joe Bruno’s insistence,” tied no doubt to the fact that Bruno’s son Kenny was representing Capital Play, an early bidder that evolved into Aqueduct Entertainment Group (AEG). Feathers himself was a principal in another bidder that won the contract in late 2008, shortly after Bruno resigned as leader, only to forfeit it when Feathers’s partners couldn’t come up with the upfront multimillion-dollar fee it agreed to pay. The majority leader was acting again as a lobbyist, this time for the horseracing interests he was so identified with, starting with his own son and Feathers.

Fisch told the Voice that the awarding of this contract to AEG was “a tribute to the unbridled power of lobbyists.” While AEG competitors, said Fisch, “had the financial resources, experience and the support of the licensing and financial professionals, AEG had the right lobbyists.” That, he concludes, “proved to be all they needed.”

Two of the lobbyists accused in the IG report of fixing the Democratic senate - Carl Andrews and Hank Sheinkopf - flouted the probe, with Andrews unsuccessfully suing to block subpoenas and appealing right up to the report’s release, and Sheinkopf taking the fifth amendment. Incredibly, their refusal to cooperate with a state probe of the award of one state contract has no effect on their ability to seek another. There are no qualifications or standards for this job, and you can keep it even if the state’s Public Integrity Commission (PIC) finds that you violated the lobbying laws. All you have to do is find a client willing to pay you.

Andrews hosted a victory dinner in his Albany house right after AEG won the bid, and Smith and Sampson and five other legislators, including Manhattan county leader Keith Wright, joined company brass at an event Andrews invoiced for $1,562. The night before Governor Paterson announced the award, Andrews and AEG executives lit a victory cigar at the Havana Club with Al Sharpton, whose NAN had just collected $100,000 in AEG contributions, ostensibly tied to their belief that the Rev was whispering to Paterson on their behalf. A former state senator himself, Andrews held a top executive title in the Spitzer and Paterson administrations until a scandal about his apparent efforts to influence a decision of the State Liquor Authority forced him from office (the IG eventually concluded that Andrews’ top aide had to be fired).

But, like Mel Miller and others in Albany, Andrews has found that scandal can be a stepping stone, prospering even after his mentor, Brooklyn Democratic boss and assemblyman Clarence Norman, was convicted in three separate felony cases. Andrews attracted clients like AEG from the moment he threw up a shingle in 2009, also recruiting A.L. Eastmond & Sons, the Bronx boiler firm that allegedly paid City Councilman Larry Seabrook $50,000 to rig a Yankee Stadium subcontract. He also represents the Marcus Garvey Nursing Home, a much-probed, state-supported, Brooklyn residence that remained the biggest giver to Norman’s re-election committee in 2009, four years after he surrendered his assembly post.  

Charged by the IG with getting a confidential senate memo from Sampson and playing a key role in tilting Sampson in AEG’s direction, Andrews’ relationship with Sampson is described by the IG as “a wellspring of ethical issues.” E-mails from AEG executives revealed that a day after Andrews got the secret memo comparing bids, they decided to boost his monthly stipend by $2,500 to $10,000, calling him “our most important” of seven lobbyists. But they also decided to pay him only half of the amount he was due right away. “By delaying payment #2,” one executive wrote, referring to a second $10,000 stipend, “he can’t release the senate.” It is such a statement of perceived power that Andrews, who has survived so many grand juries he may think they’re grand, is apparently trying again to wait out this storm as well and perhaps turn the findings into a flyer for his services.

Sheinkopf copped a memo, too, obtaining it from an aide to the top Senate staffer, Angelo Aponte, who Sheinkopf personally installed in the key spot. He had the power to do that because the skillful Sheinkopf doubles as a lobbyist and as a political consultant, and had advised Senate Democrats in the elections that led to the 2008 majority, helping to make Malcolm Smith majority leader. Sheinkopf collected $356,741 in consulting fees from the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee at the same time that he was representing AEG and its precursor with Senate Democrats. Having worked for Bill Thompson and Mike Bloomberg most recently, Sheinkopf makes kings so he can then make deals with the kings he’s made. He became a regular on CNN over recent years, appearing as an expert so often he started to believe he was one.

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