Christopher Briggs, the Cohoes Common Council president, has been sworn in as mayor for the rest of the year after Shawn Morse pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud in federal court Tuesday in Binghamton.
“It’s a very, very unfortunate situation but these are the cards we’re going to deal with,” said Briggs, the acting mayor of Cohoes.
Under terms of the plea deal, Morse agreed to forfeit $12,250 of campaign funds and contributions that it's believed he misused.
Briggs and other council members say the state public officers law indicates the mayor’s office is immediately vacated once the elected official is a convicted felon.
“Those things are mutually exclusive. You can either be the mayor or you can be a felon. You can't be both," said Stephen Napier, Cohoes Common Council member.
Briggs says he spoke to Morse briefly before the emergency meeting, and the two disagree on the law.
Federal prosecutors accused Morse of using campaign funds to pay for his personal expenses. He faced one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, five counts of wire fraud, and one count of making a false statement to the FBI.
A week after being indicted, Morse's former campaign manager Ralph Signoracci pleaded guilty to conspiring with Morse to steal campaign contributions.
Morse did not immediately return a request for comment. His attorney, William Dreyer, believes the conviction isn’t final under federal law until his sentencing in December.
“That’s not to say that he isn’t going work out with the city some way of leaving office,” said Dreyer.
At this point, the Common Council say they just wanted to move forward after months of controversy.
Briggs says he’s now focused on the budget.
“Everybody loves the city so we just want what’s best for our community," he said.
Morse has denied any wrongdoing over the last six months while seeking another term as mayor. He lost to William Keeler in the Democratic primary in June.
Keeler said he wishes Morse and his family well, but that the mayor should have stepped down sooner, saying it is simply time to move forward.
"It has not been good for the reputation of the city. He has been the face of this city for his term in office, and the last couple years, he has not reflected well on the city," Keeler said. "I think the people of Cohoes want to move forward. They want to get past all this and this is an opportunity to do that."
Other residents say Morse has done a lot for Cohoes and they continue to support him.
"He has done a wonderful job for Cohoes. I mean, there is so much going on, so much building. It's just unfortunate that this has transpired," said Cohoes resident Sandra Sprague.