17 March 2010

New York Politics: Corruption

Stephen Kershnar
New York Politicians: Pretty Damn Funny
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
March 15, 2010

New York politicians are so sleazy and incompetent that they are fun to watch. Sure, like their Washington counterparts, they’re running things into the ground, but this is a small price to pay for the entertainment.

Consider first the executive branch. Former governor and pompous crusader Eliot Spitzer (D) resigned after being caught with a smoking hot prostitute. When he was the New York State Attorney General, he aggressively pursued those in the prostitution business. He should have been thrown out of work when his office used the police in a plan to spy on and smear Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno (R) when Bruno travelled around the state with police escorts. When Spitzer stepped down in 2008, he was replaced by then Lieutenant Governor David Paterson (D). Paterson quickly admitted to adultery and drug use and the media gave him a clean bill of health. Apparently, prostitution-adultery is worse than either police spying or adultery and drug use. Albany is a wise place.

Ben Adler of Newsweek points out that the man the Spitzer administration was using the police to spy on was later convicted in 2009 on felony charges for corruption relating to $3.2 million in consulting fees he received while serving as Senate Majority Leader. My favorite part of his case was the $80,000 he received from a businessman in return for a worthless horse (see New York Daily News). One can see how Bruno might have gotten carried away. An article in www.wikipedia.com asserts that there is at least one building named for Bruno in each of the fourteen towns and two cities that comprise Rensselaer County, New York. Plus, there is a minor league baseball stadium, “Joseph L. Bruno Stadium,” in Troy, New York named after him.

Last month Paterson decided not to run for re-election because of allegations that he was involved in witness tampering and violating gift-rules. Paterson supposedly got New York State Police and staffers to try and talk staffer David W. Johnson’s girlfriend into dropping a domestic-abuse case. Paterson also allegedly lied under oath about soliciting free tickets from the Yankees for World Series games. One can just imagine Spitzer complaining bitterly that high-priced prostitution is much classier than Paterson’s low-rent activities.

In the State Senate that Joseph Bruno previously ran, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo (D) is currently investigating State Senator Pedro Espada (D) for allegedly violating state election, labor, and nonprofit laws. Fellow State Senator Hiram Monserrate (D) was convicted of assaulting his girlfriend and the Senate expelled him. A former NYPD officer, he allegedly slashed his girlfriend’s face with a broken drinking glass during an argument. In 2009, these politicians left the Democratic Party and formed a coalition with the Republicans. Both later returned to the Democrats. Democrats like characters. Adler asserts that the Democrats bought Espada with the Senate Majority Leader position. Monserrate is currently running for his seat again.

Just in case you’re wondering, this is the very same Cuomo who played a major role in the housing crisis that tanked the economy. He spurred Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to underwrite more subprime mortgages and lower underwriting standards. Obviously with a foul-up so massive, he will be an excellent choice for governor. Having previously been married to Robert Kennedy’s daughter, he combines the Kennedy family’s judgment and the Cuomo family’s competence.

Even the state watchers have to be watched. New York State Comptroller Alan Hevesi (D) resigned in 2006. He did so as part of a plea bargain in which he was found guilty of defrauding the government for his personal use of state employees to help his wife. Given that, as Adler points out, New York City provided a police driver and security escort to Mayor Giuliani’s mistress, Judith Nathan, Hevesi could plausibly claim that everybody was doing it. Adler reports that Cuomo is currently investigating Hevesi for allegations that state pension fund gave contracts to Hesevi’s aides and political allies. My favorite Hevesi corruption allegation was that his aides gave $800,000 to Raymond Harding (Harding pled guilty for taking the money) in return for Harding not running for re-election so Hevesi’s son could win an Assembly seat. He did.

Speaking of Giuliani, his police commissioner, Bernie Kerik (R), was sentenced in 2010 to four years for assorted felonies. This differed from his 2006 conviction for, among other things, accepting a gift from a construction firm trying to do business with the city. Mayor Giuliani (R) recommended Kerik to the Bush Administration to head the Department of Homeland Security.

When it comes to corruption, though, Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) is king. This month he stepped down as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee for taking corporate-sponsored junkets. The New York Post points out that this scandal is not to be confused with the ones surrounding his failure to pay taxes on a Caribbean villa, his failure to disclose more than $500,000 in credit union assets, the sweetheart deal involving four rent-stabilized Harlem apartments, and his use of Congressional office to raise money for a center modestly named after him. He’s still way behind Bruno. Because the four apartments were rent controlled, he paid at least $30,000 less per year than their market value. As a side note, the House has a $100 per year limit on gifts. The New York Times reports that the apartments’ owners also gave to Rangel’s campaigns. He also used one apartment as a campaign office despite the fact that the law disallows it. Rangel was able to afford the villa and other goodies despite working for the government since 1967. While Rangel got all these goodies, Paterson only got Yankee tickets. Unfair.

Funnier than Rangel is the recent resignation of Rep. Eric Massa (D-NY). According to Brian Palmer in www.slate.com, Massa admitted that he groped a male staffer and “tickled him until he couldn’t breathe.” That’s some serious tickling. He obviously is an excellent tickler.

Through sheer hard work, New York has become more corrupt than its two closest competitors: New Jersey and Illinois. As Jonathan Alter pointed out, Illinois managed to have three governors in prison and a fourth, Rod Blagojevich, has been indicted for trying to sell Barack Obama’s Senate seat. Impressive, but New York is more diverse and creative.

While these buffoons take bribes, tank the economy, and tickle away, New York faces a deficit that might be as high as $9 billion dollars. According to the Tax Foundation, as of 2009, it has the second highest state and local tax burden, the second worst business climate, the highest cigarette and gas taxes, and the fifth highest per capita property tax collections (the last is a 2006 figure, the latest available). Its financial mess is no fluke. It shot spending up by 41% over the last decade. With the recession in full force, the overall state budget increased by 8.7% last year and Paterson proposes to increase it again this year (0.6%). The New York Times reports that New York spends more on education per capita than any other state. The same is likely true for per capita spending on Medicaid (it was the highest in 2006 according to The Public Policy Institute). It is an interesting question whether the corruption causes the mismanagement, mismanagement causes the corruption, or some other relation holds.


The Objectivist said...

My guess is that there is a two-way causal connection between spending and corruption. This explains why NJ has similar problems in both fronts.

The Objectivist said...

It's an interesting question why New York has such incompetent and corrupt politicians. At the statewide level, Sen. Chuck Schumer is a demagogue of the first order. Hillary Clinton was involved in dirty business in Whitewater, Castle Grande, Chinese funny money, and various campaign scandals involving Puerto Rican terrorists, Hasidic Jews, etc.

The Constructivist said...

Our per capita support for public higher ed, meanwhile is in the bottom ten among all states. Want to debate SUNY privatization again via the Empowerment Act?

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