hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


Editorial  December 2017-January 2018



A county’s top leaders under separate clouds


As this issue goes to press, it appears that the people of Rensselaer County will head into the new year with two of their top elected officials under separate legal and ethical clouds.

First there was the news on Nov. 29 that a bipartisan ethics panel had admonished Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin, who just narrowly won the race to become the next county executive, in a 2016 sexual harassment case.

And then on Dec. 1 came the indictment of District Attorney Joel Abelove, who is accused of felony perjury and two misdemeanor counts of official misconduct in his handling of the fatal police shooting of a drunken-driving suspect.

The case against Abelove is the result of a yearlong investigation by the office of state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, whose office stepped in to review the death of Edson Thevenin, a 37-year-old black man from Colonie who was shot eight times by a Troy police sergeant during an April 2016 traffic stop.

Schneiderman’s office claims Abelove short-circuited the inquiry into Thevenin’s death by hurriedly bringing the case before a grand jury, which cleared the Troy officer of any criminal wrongdoing. The official misconduct charges allege that Abelove effectively granted the Troy officer immunity from prosecution and also failed to let the grand jury hear testimony from two civilian witnesses who said they didn’t believe the officer was in imminent danger when he opened fire.

The charges against Abelove, a first-term Republican, are at least clear and easy to understand. And Abelove is entitled to his day in court, where there’ll be a transparent process for assessing his guilt or innocence.

It’s hard to see, though, how Abelove can continue to credibly serve as the county’s top prosecutor, as he claims he plans to do, while his own conduct is the focus of criminal charges. He should step aside -- at least until the charges are resolved.

The case against McLaughlin is a bit murkier and seems unlikely to become the focus of any further inquiry that might clarify it. But the facts as we know them appear to fit into a troubling pattern.

The Assembly’s bipartisan Ethics Committee began its investigation after a female aide to another Republican assemblyman claimed last year that McLaughlin had asked her to provide him with nude photos. The committee initially deadlocked 4-4 in June on whether there was sufficient evidence McLaughlin had violated the Assembly’s sexual harassment policy.
But the committee reopened its investigation after learning that the identity of the complainant had leaked out. The panel concluded, based on interviews with other Assembly staffers who’d learned the woman’s identity, that it was McLaughlin who leaked this information. The panel unanimously concluded that his disclosure shows “he is guilty of the sexual harassment of which he is accused.”

McLaughlin vehemently denies the charge, which was not made public until after the November election. But what was made public before the election was a Times Union report based on recordings of McLaughlin berating another female Assembly aide who made and then recanted a claim that he’d assaulted her. The recordings, which are still on the newspaper’s Web site, are stunningly cheesy and vulgar.

Against that backdrop, it’s hard to believe a majority of voters would have chosen McLaughlin to lead the county if they’d known the details of the new case.


Work for the Observer!