Corruption in New York

You don’t want ANY U.S. Attorney crawling up your ass. You especially don’t want the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York there. The Southern District of New York is one of the highest profile posts in the U.S. Justice Department. Slouches don’t get sent there. And’ it’s Preet Bharara, not Preet Bahara. It’s an Indian name and it isn’t that hard to pronounce. Seriously.

New York State government, especially the state legislature, has a problem with corruption–a big problem. I hope I didn’t miss any but as far as I can recall, six members of the New York State Legislature have been formally charged crimes having to do with corruption in the last six years. The latest is Sheldon Silver, Speaker of the New York State Assembly. Silver has reportedly submitted his resignation as Speaker effective tomorrow after more than 20 years on the job, because of the charges against him. He has been accused of accepting millions of dollars from law firms, doing no legal work for the money, and using his public position to benefit the law firm and himself. In other words, bribes and kickbacks. He’s 70 and, if convicted, he could be spending the rest of his life in jail. He’s also one of the three most powerful political office holders in the State of New York, so if he tries to swing a deal, who knows who else he could bring down.

In addition to Silver, I can also think of three other former Assembly Speakers in New York and one Senate Majority Leader who have been charged with crimes, Perry Duryea wasn’t convicted, and neither was Stanley Steingut. Mel Miller was convicted of something that had nothing to do with his Speakership. Across the aisle in the State Senate, Joe Bruno was first convicted, then the law was thrown out by the US Supreme Court, then he was tried again and acquitted, but it cost him millions of dollars. Then it cost the taxpayers of New York over two million because the people reimbursed that much of his legal expenses. In New York in my lifetime, we’ve also had Governor Eliot Spitzer and his prostitute. And then there was Sol Wachtler, former Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals who did 15 months in jail because of threats he made toward a former lover.

The New York State Legislature doesn’t work like most representative bodies. It is controlled almost 100 percent by the Assembly Speaker and the Senate Majority Leader. State budget negotiations in New York don’t involve committees of both houses. They involve the “three men in a room” that Bharara referred to in his news conference. The Governor and the leaders of both houses take care of it personally and the two houses of the legislature go along with their leaders or they are disciplined.

A lot of people have been calling New York the most corrupt state in the nation. It could very well be. I don’t follow politics in other states and as far as I know, in recent experience, Illinois only had a governor who tried to sell a US Senate seat after President Obama was elected back in 2008.

I’ve spent my career as an appointed, not elected public official, but to be elected or appointed where I live, you have to be active in politics. I’ve never been in a high enough echelon to encounter any of the corruption we’ve all been reading about lately, but I guess I am a politician and I think it’s not a perfect system. There’s more than one thing that needs to change, but corruption is at or near the top of the list.

My father-in-law used to say often and loudly that, “All politicians are crooks.” That’s not true. A lot of them are really trying to improve society and a lot of them are also in it for power rather than money. I finally got fed up with with my father-in-law and told him that he was welcomed to think whatever he wanted to think, but if he said all politicians are crooks again in my house, he would not be welcomed in my house anymore. Still, it often seems as if the old joke about car dealers applies here. The dishonest ones are giving the other five percent a bad name. It’s been my contention that the American public gets much better government than it deserves or has any right to expect, considering the low level of public interest and participation.

When U.S. Attorney Bharara announced the charges against Sheldon Silver, he advised the public to “stay tuned” for further developments. Since he implied more is coming, if you’re a corrupt politician in Albany, my advice to you isn’t to stay tuned, it is to quake in your boots.

Author: Tom

I know my ABC's, I can write my name and I can count to a hundred.