Two forces have swirled around Queens State Senator Malcolm Smith throughout his career: power and scandal. And they appeared long before his arrest for allegedly trying to bribe his way into this year's mayoral race
Smith's first exposure to both came in a well-publicized event in 1990. Smith was working for his mentor, former Queens Congressman Floyd Flake. The congressman and his wife were accused of funneling funds for a Queens church into their own pockets.
Smith would go on to face his own issues for allegedly using politics for personal gain.
He was accused of trying to cut a deal to hand the multi-billion dollar Aqueduct racino contract to a politically-connected firm. And his name has been floated in other reported investigations into the mishandling of funds for a charter school and a non-profit connected to Smith.
Democratic political operative Hank Sheinkopf says that's not the Smith people should remember.
“He was the guy who took back the senate and he's a good community guy. He walks around,” said Sheinkopf.
But even as majority leader, controversy followed Smith.
After being ousted from leadership in a 2009 coup, he’s been criticized for coddling the very rogue members who had deposed him. That didn't sit well with his peers and ultimately helped cost him his position.
Smith has managed to find a way back into power as part of a breakaway Democratic faction that shares leadership with Senate Republicans.
Senator Andrea Stuart-Cousins, the Democratic Minority Leader, says she was stunned by the latest allegations against Smith.
“All of us want to believe that each of us are there with the public interest at heart,” she said.
But in conversations with other political observers who know Smith, they see nothing surprising in his alleged plan to bribe Republican officials for a shot at the mayor's office.
In fact, they say, his rise to power and evasion of alleged wrongdoing, despite the years of suspicion, may have led him to believe that he had a real shot at getting away with it.