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Malcolm Smith No Stranger to Controversy in Politics and the Law

By Tom Liddy | April 2, 2013 5:45pm

NEW YORK CITY — State Sen. Malcolm Smith, who was arrested Tuesday for allegedly trying to rig the mayoral race, has been a powerful political force in Queens for years who has a history of brushes with the law as well as his party.

Smith — who was named the leader for the Democrats after their historic takeover of the state senate for the first time in 43 years in 2008 — stunned his party and the political world last summer when he announced that he was considering a run for mayor as a Republican, according to the New York Post.

The move shocked GOP party leaders, such as the party's Manhattan boss Dan Isaacs, who quipped: "I didn't know today was April Fools," the Post reported.

 State Sen. Malcolm Smith attends European School Of Economics Foundation Vision And Reality Awards on December 5, 2012 in New York City.
State Sen. Malcolm Smith attends European School Of Economics Foundation Vision And Reality Awards on December 5, 2012 in New York City.
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Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for European School of Economics Foundation

Three of the other four Republican party bosses also said that Smith, who was mired in the Aqueduct Racino bidding scandal, also panned his bid, the paper said.

“One of the things we ask candidates is, ‘Have you ever done anything that would embarrass yourself or the Republican Party?’ I don’t think Senator Smith can pass that test,” said Queens boss Phil Ragusa, according to the paper.

The vice chair for the Queens party, Vincent Tabone, was arrested Tuesday along with Smith for allegedly participating in a scheme to get on the GOP ballot for mayor.

In order to do that, Smith would need the support of three of the five county Republican party chairs.

At a meeting in August 2012, the Bronx party leader, Joseph Savino and Isaacs seemed to have warmed up to Smith, reportedly saying that they were impressed by his moderate stance on law enforcement.

Then in December, Smith jumped off of his party's ship, joining forces to caucus with Independent Democrats, a group of four other pols who aligned with state Republicans, the Post said.

Smith was trying to edge his way into an unusually crowded Republican field in the mayoral contest including former MTA boss and party frontrunner Joe Lhota.

Fellow GOP mayoral candidate John Catsimatidis, whose aide and vice chair of the Queens Democratic party, Vincent Tabone, was arrested in the sting as well, blasted the "culture of corruption that permeates our city and state."

Smith — who has represented Southeast Queens' 14th Senatorial District since 2000 and serves as the vice chair of the senate finance committee as well as co-chairing a budgetary committee on Hurricane Sandy recovery — has been mentioned in connection with a pair of recent investigations.

Smith and state senate colleague John Sampson (D), who represents parts of Southern Brooklyn, were reportedly under investigation earlier this year for helping Aqueduct Entertainment Group land a contract (which was later rescinded), to run the racino, the Post said.

Smith was also connected to another federal investigation involving Queens Congressman Gregory Meeks, according to the paper. His spokesman said Smith "has committed no illegal activity whatsoever, nor has he been contacted by any law-enforcement agency in this matter," the paper said.

A charity founded by Smith and Meeks, New Direction Local Development Corp., was being eyed by investigators in 2009 for only paying out a small percentage of the $31,000 it raised for Hurricane Katrina victims, the Post said.

Smith lost control of the state senate that year after briefly controlling it following a Democratic takeover in 2009.

From 2008-2010, when he led the party, Smith touted "introducing and passing rules changes which fundamentally reformed the way the Senate operates and increased transparency to the public," according to his official bio.

Smith used to post inspirational words on the wall of his office in Albany or send out memos.

In a twist he once posted the Bible verse Ezekiel 25:17: "The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men."

Smith started his nearly three-decade career in city politics in 1986 as an aide to a former congressman, the Rev. Floyd Flake, according to his official bio. He also said he worked as "City Hall assistant" to former mayor Ed Koch, accoridng to the bio.

During his time in the state senate, he said he brought millions of dollars into his district to build affordable housing and improve schools. In 1991, he founded the Smith Development Corporation, which helped build over 100 housing units in Southeast Queens.

He has also taken on gun violence, the bio says.

A rep for Smith did not immediately respond to an email request for comment from DNAinfo regarding the reported investigations. Earlier, he said that Smith would be "vindicated when all the facts in the case are revealed."

Additional reporting by Murray Weiss