This post has been updated 8/21/19 10:57 a.m.
The Cohoes Common Council voted Tuesday night to mark August 20 the last paid day for Mayor Shawn Morse — who has loomed large in Albany County politics for years.
Earlier in the day, the first-term Democrat pleaded guilty to one felony count for the misuse of campaign funds in federal court in Binghamton.
On Tuesday night, Common Council President Chris Briggs was sworn in as mayor for the remainder of Morse’s term, which expires at the end of the year.
The U.S. Attorney’s office and FBI say Morse obtained $12,250 in political contributions from at least 10 people to pay for personal expenses.
In March, Morse’s campaign treasurer Ralph Signoracci pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Authorities say Signoracci failed to disclose or falsely reported campaign expenditures.
The campaign finance case came after the embattled Morse was already facing calls to resign from top Democrats including the governor over past domestic violence allegations. The mayor was defiant and denied the allegations.
Briggs said he hoped the city can turn a page and wished no ill will toward Morse. He said a lot of good things that happened in the city over the last 3 and a half years would not have happened without “the bulldog Shawn Morse.”
“It’s a very, very unfortunate situation, but these are the cards we’re dealt, we’re going to deal with it,” said Briggs.
Briggs believes state law backs up the common council’s actions and said because Morse admitted guilt to a felony, that his position is vacated.
“I mean, he has the option of going to the court and seeing if somehow they believe that it’s different than what our counsel told us, what other lawyers have reiterated without stepping in with an opinion,” Briggs said Tuesday night. “So I think we’re on extremely firm ground.”
Briggs said he spoke to Morse earlier in the day. He reportedly told Briggs that he believes he could remain in office until sentencing – December 10th.
“He felt that he was dealing with federal law, and I told him that was not my opinion,” said Briggs.
There was no action Tuesday to determine who would take Briggs’ seat on the common council.
Bill Keeler, who won the decisive four-way Democratic primary including Morse in June, said he hoped the city would send a strong message to Morse that his time has run out. Keeler is widely expected to take office as mayor in January.
“I hope corporation counsel drafts a letter telling him that he’s no longer mayor, cites the law, so that there’s no confusion,” Keeler said. “It’d be a liability on the city if Shawn Morse thinks he’s still the mayor and comes into the office and orders people around. Who knows what could happen.”
During Tuesday’s special meeting, councilor Randy Koniowka wished Morse the best, though acknowledged their past political differences — saying “nobody went harder with Shawn” than he did.
“Again, I think at the end of the day he had the best interest of the city at heart, and I wish him all the well in his future endeavors. I don’t think the book is closed on Shawn Morse. He’s not out.”
Requests for comment to Morse and his lawyer following Tuesday’s guilty plea were not returned.