On Thursday, Cohoes Mayor Shawn Morse walked out of the U.S. District courthouse in Albany after pleading not guilty to a seven-count indictment. Charges included wire fraud and misuse of political funds to pay for home repairs and vacations. What happens next?
Morse waved to a supporter, then aides spirited him away from reporters into a waiting vehicle.
During an emergency meeting late Thursday afternoon, the Cohoes Common Council approved a non-binding resolution asking Morse to resign or take a leave of absence.
But conditions governing Morse's release include he must maintain employment.
Common Councilor Randy Koniowka says the city charter is open to interpretation on the matter. "It is vague. You know the charter talks about 'whenever there shall be a vacancy in the office of the mayor,' or 'whenever by reason of sickness or absence from the city that the president of the common council shall act as acting mayor.' Now 'absence from the city' obviously is very vague, you know, what does that mean? The charter also talks about a 30-day period of absence that the president of the common council would then have powers to sign ordinances and resolutions, so, you know what was passed the other night by the common council, and asking for the mayor to either resign, which would be, you know, to resign, you're done - there's no coming back - or this leave of absence which is, it seems to me, very vague as to what that really means in a legal sense."
Koniowka says councilors left the special session with mixed emotions about the first-term Democrat. "At the end of the day you have a couple council members that are supportive of the mayor, and that's fine. I understand that. I think they're supportive for political reasons. I think they're supportive because they're afraid that if they're not supportive that their own re-election attempts will be stymied. I think you have other members of the council that feel that the mayor (at least from my perspective) should have resigned a year ago. Others maybe feel that now is the time that he should go. So I think you have a council that' still relatively split, even though there was this, well, 5 to 1 vote with one abstention vote, you know I think you have some members that are trying to walk a very delicate dance here, to not offend the mayor, to not offend his supporters that they feel may turn on them in their own attempt to be re-elected."
Morse, elected in 2015, is running for another term this year along with several other declared candidates. Troubles aside, he and his supporters have been out gathering petition signatures in anticipation of making the June primary ballot.
Perhaps hoping to mitigate a series of scathing newspaper articles about alleged domestic violence, Morse kicked off his campaign in January with New York City-based "Reputation Doctor" Mike Paul at his side. The two have since fallen out over a disagreement about Paul's services. Morse's campaign manager Tom Scarff: "I talked to him once on the phone prior to him coming up here for the announcement and my head was going in circles trying to figure out exactly what he does."
Paul says Morse owes his firm $20,000. Scarff refutes that. "He said that he had a very close relationship with one reporter from the Times Union that was after Shawn all the time. And uh, you know so I'm sure that's one of the reasons he's in the paper saying that Shawn owes him."
Paul begs to differ. "We offered them a payment plan as well, which they refused and the mayor is saying that we were hired for only one press conference, which is not only a lie but drastically inaccurate."
Paul looked back on Morse's troubles and offered this comment: "The mayor had a situation last fall where the FBI questioned him on a number of things which should have started the clock of 'do I need to be concerned about potentially being arrested?' Generically, for anyone who is in a situation like that I would say the best way to make a decision, not just legally, not just politically, but as the best man you can be ethically and morally, is to answer that question or these questions not only with your mind but with your heart and with your soul."
Morse is on federal pretrial probation. He wrote on Facebook ... "This is my one and only statement. Thank you for all the love and support! This is the last hurdle we face..."
If convicted he could face up to 25 years in prison and fines that could run as high as $500,000.