Assemblymember Phil Steck calls for DA David Soares to resign
New York State Assemblyman Phil Steck is calling for the resignation of Albany County District Attorney David Soares, a fellow Democrat, after it was reported last week that Soares used state grant funding to give himself and staff members an 11 percent bonus in December.
Soares continues to defend a $22,000 salary bonus he gave himself and bonuses distributed to other staffers from a state grant.
The matter was first reported by the Times Union and WRGB and is being investigated by Albany County Comptroller Sue Rizzo.
Speaking with WAMC Sunday, Steck called Soares’ actions illegal. Steck, of the 110th district, is an attorney and sits on the Judiciary Committee.
"There isn't a public official in the state of New York who doesn't understand that using grant money to pay themselves is illegal and wrong," said Steck. "It really is graft, plain and simple. So, I think it also adversely affects the credibility of the district attorney's office. The district attorney has to speak on a variety of issues related to crime. And if he is trying to defend something that is indefensible, it brings into question his credibility on a wide variety of other issues."
Soares argued on WAMC Friday that the scrutiny comes as he prepares to seek re-election. "This issue is being retroactively litigated as a personal, political hit," Soares said.
108th district Assembly member John McDonald, a fellow Democrat, says he's still in "fact-finding mode."
"As a person who works very closely with David, I've known him for, jeez, over 23, 24 years. I'm surprised. I'm very surprised, I'm disappointed. The reality is the state legislature intentionally increased funding, because district attorneys were publicly lamenting the additional work burdens that the state had put on them. And we intentionally put money aside. Because, for the express purpose of attracting and retaining staff, not elected officials. Elected officials, they know what they're running for. They know what the salary is. They know what the time commitment is, and they know what the rules and regulations are. So I really feel bad at this stage of the game for the employees. They should have gotten a much higher increase. And once again, I'm surprised that David is in this situation, but like anything else, I think it's important that all the facts be laid out before people start making decisions," McDonald said.
109th District Assemblymember Pat Fahy, who is running for State Senate, says she'll let the investigation play out, adding she is deeply troubled and the lack of transparency gives the appearance of wrongdoing. She says in light of the timing, she thinks the full Albany County Democratic committee should hold off on any endorsement in the DA's race tomorrow.
Albany Common Councilor Owusu Anane, fresh off announcing a run to replace Fahy, is watching from the sidelines, for now. "That's a developing story right now. And I think that we will let the legal minds make those decisions," Anane said.
Rizzo notes that the district attorney salary is set by the state. "And it requires a local law to increase that doubt dollar amount," said Rizzo.
Soares insists he did not use the funds inappropriately and that he believes he earned the bonus. Over the weekend he released a video statement on the grant, saying he appeared before the Albany County Audit and Finance Committee in September 2023, which then gave his office approval to dispense the funding. "Grant money was distributed almost two months later in December of 2023," Soares said.
Soares says if he had a chance to rewind, he definitely would have gone the local law route. Steck says it's too late for that now, and the DA must go.
"The governor may be entitled to appoint a replacement. That happens with a lot of vacancies that are filled. However, I haven't particularly looked into that. I think the paramount issue now is that this district attorney has just discredited himself and he can't reasonably continue in this office," said Steck.
Albany County Executive Dan McCoy said in a statement: "Allegations of inappropriate use of funds need to be investigated by the proper authorities."