I’ve been an appointed public official for more than half my life. While I’m much more interested in government than in politics, I admit that makes me a politician. Before I started in government, I reported on it. After I started, I got a master’s degree in it. I’ve taught it in college too. I read about government on my job and in my spare time. I don’t play golf at conferences; I attend all the sessions. I’m something of a policy wonk, especially when it comes to property taxes and other government revenue.
Elected officials, and some appointed ones too, seek publicity. So, when one of them is unethical, dishonest, immoral, does something illegal, or all four of those things, he or she deserves to get more publicity than someone who has spent his or her life out of the limelight. I don’t know if there are more dishonest politicians than any other profession, but that publicity sure makes it seem as if there are. And it reflects on all of us.
How much does it tear down everyone’s reputation? Well, my late father-in-law, a good, decent, kind, and generous man, used to sit in my home and opine that all politicians are crooks. He did that often enough that I became fed up. Finally I said to him, “You can think anything you want to think, but if you say, ‘All politicians are crooks’ in my house one more time, you will no longer be welcomed in my house because I’m a politician and I’m not a crook.”
In my varied career I’ve done public relations and any competent PR person would advise a client to never frame an accusation. Someone must have advised former President Nixon not to say things like, “I am not a crook,” but this was a private conversation among family. I didn’t say it in front of cameras or microphones. Until today, the fact that I said it was never in print either.
I believe my father-in-law never stopped thinking that at least the vast majority of politicians are crooks. I don’t think he ever slipped up and said something like that in my presence again either. I told you he was good, decent, kind, and generous. I would not have wanted to grow up in that family. I could never have married my wife if I did. But if I had grown up in that family, I might be able to do a better imitation of normal than I can today.
So now we come to New York State government and the Governor of New York. Mr. Patterson, there are negative stories about you in the news media every day. All of them are about unethical behavior attributed to you. Some of the accusations, if true, are felonious. The last I heard, three top officials in your administration have resigned in the last week or so. One of them may be implicated; the other two cited personal integrity.
Political capital is the sum of a leader’s various abilities to influence the course of government and political action. Some of it is the ability to direct money, but there are many other aspects including charisma, respect, voter support in your last election, current support as judged by polls. It’s a long list.
Governor Paterson, you have no more political capital. You’ve squandered all of yours. Your supporters’ strongest argument for you to stay is you’re going next January anyway. You’re reinforcing the stereotype and giving the rest of the politicians a bad name. I think you should go now.