Replacing Hiram And Cleaning Up The System
By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
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Hiram Monserrate’s expulsion – that’s an ugly word – from the State Senate was upheld by Federal Judge William Pauley. Gosh, can you imagine how evil one has to be so as not to be fit to serve in the most maligned elective house in the nation? Now while Hiram certainly contributed to the dysfunction this past summer, they achieved the corruption and self-serving ethical abominations long before Hiram took the Thruway north.
The House that Bruno built is as void of decency and purpose no matter which party is in control. The Albany culture of corruption trumps all.
And what is to become of Hiram’s seat?
On March 16, there will be a special election to fill the vacancy created by Hiram’s expulsion. Hiram submitted some 5,500 signatures to run as an independent – an effort which is sure to be scrutinized and challenged by Dems who still fear the wily thug.
Geesh, I never know what to call Hiram, a man who was convicted of a misdemeanor for domestic violence and clearly outplayed both parties this summer by trading his vote for influence and stymieing the Senate. They all do it; he just did it outside of the party blessing. He cares about his constituents but clearly can’t work within existing governmental structures.
Ye s, Hiram should be replaced.
Jose Peralta, the local Assemblyman, has the support of Queens County and Albany Senate Dems.
But sadly, the hero of the moment seems to be tarnished like the rest of the Albany cesspool – perhaps he’ll fit right in. Peralta has acknowledged filing false campaign financial reports listing his mother as an in-kind donor instead of the LLC she worked for allowing the Assemblyman to increase his war chest by some $17,000. There are a number of other questions about campaign filing improprieties, but Peralta refuses to respond to this paper.
Hopefully there will be a real election and Peralta will have to face his wrongdoing.
While the vacancy remains in the 13th SD until March 16, the Senate is divided 31 Democrats who do not always get along and 30 Republicans who seem to function and vote in unison when it matters.
The interesting political twist is the Republicans had offered their line to former Councilwoman and lifelong Democrat Helen Sears, who would have been expected, if she were to win, to organize with the Republicans. Ultimately she declined the nomination, citing a lack of cross-party support from the Independence Party, so we are no longer looking at the possibility of throwing the Senate back into an organizational nightmare. But in all honesty, it is sometimes harder to tell which is worse: the state Senate in session or the state Senate that doesn’t do anything.
With Peralta as the Dem, if Monserrate makes the ballot on his “Yes We Can – Si Se Puede” line, one-on-one we think Peralta has the advantage.
While I’m directing my disgust at Albany, last week, the NY Post let the NYC Council have it with both barrels likening it to the Albany sewer:
“Embezzling $1.2 million in taxpayer cash — as Bronx Councilman Larry Seabrook allegedly did — violates even the ludicrously lax standards of the New York City Council.”
“But count on this: Seabrook never would’ve gotten away with it for so long if a lot of his council colleagues weren’t neck-deep in much of the same muck.”
“Sure, most of them may not be lining their own pockets (as far as is known). At least some of the nonprofits they fund may even do valuable work.”
“Nonetheless, it’s stil l profoundly corrupting — with the bulk of the cash going straight to folks the pols know will be useful come election season.”
“What’s more, it’s no coincidence that such a system breeds Seabrook-level corruption. If everyone’s gorged with pork, it’s in everyone’s interest to turn a blind eye to the worst apples.”
The Post then offers a list of seven Council members who have been involved, to some extent, in questionable misdirection of member item money.
They point the finger right at the top of the Council: “Council Speaker Christine Quinn is especially culpable: She says she’s instituted “reforms,” but pork remains her No. 1 tool for enforcing discipline. She was even caught budgeting cash for made-up groups in order to quietly dispense it to allies later.”
They then turn on Albany and provide an equally long sleaze list including such Queens luminaries Brian McLaughlin and Tony Seminerio, and suggested that the member item scandal “may yet trip up Senate President Malcolm Smith.”
The answer, my friends, lies in reform at all levels of government.
Return legislators to the task of legislating and not distributing public funds, ensure independent oversight and prosecute the hell out of those elected who don’t understand the meaning of “public service.”
Blast the Bosses; Chide The ‘Reformers’
By HENRY STERN
For the last few months, we have written a parade of articles about the legislature, which is not only dysfunctional but self-serving. Some columns are about individuals in trouble because of their own greed, others are about a system which frustrates honest men and women and allows the defeat of legislation by unseen powers.
For generations, civic organizations have been complaining about Albany. In recent years, these lamentations have intensified. The Brennan Center for Justice, which is a research organization at NYU Law School, produced its magnum opus in 2004, referring to the NY State legislature as “the most dysfunctional legislature in the nation.” Since then, despite pressure from editorial boards of newspapers around the state, the activity of civic organizations demanding reform, and the complete absence of any reasoned defense of existing rules and privileges, little change has taken place. In fact, political bosses are as powerful as ever. In the Assembly enormous power is concentrated in the Speaker, who is the ablest politician in the state, in part by simply being rational. The Senate is anarchic and corrupt, swollen with patronage, at the mercy of its least ethical members, the laughing stock of the political universe.
In our judgment, the main problem is not the money that public officials steal or extort, which can be counted in the millions, but the amount they give away due to rewards or pressures, which runs into the billions. A sweetened pension, for example, passed one midnight to appease a union leader, will be paid out for eternity. When the commuter tax was killed in 1999, New York City lost hundreds of millions of dollars, not for one year, but forever. It’s pay, and play, for keeps.
One reason the current network of relationships has endured for so long is that, like some animals, it has the ability to heal itself when it is injured. When one man goes down, another is elected or appointed to take his place, and learns the ropes just as a new inmate does when he enters prison.
Now the large majority of legislators do not take cash for their personal use. Some of those who do have been caught. But the majority receives campaign contributions. The problem is that the votes and opinions of quite a few legislators are shaped by their contributors. Indeed, there is an ethic in town that if you have taken money from someone long enough, you are morally obligated to vote as he wishes.
These networks, where elected officials need to raise funds every two years, and the only people who care to give them money are people who want something from them, generate a Petri dish in which favoritism and cronyism flourish. “Pay to play” affects many aspects of the work of elected officials. The legislators identify more closely with the lobbyists, good buddies who are there from year to year, than annoying locals who show up only to make demands. Put it this way, with whom is a legislator more likely to have a drink?
The reformers are, however, a useful part of the legislative process. I am one of them (president of Citizens Union from 1990 to 1993, the Dinkins years) and I have been with them on all-day bus trips to Albany, where they meet with legislators and listen to lies. More often than not, a younger staff member appears. He pays attention to what the reformers are saying. He promises that he will tell his boss, who at the moment is unfortunately detained at an important meeting. Maybe he will, maybe he won’t. It scarcely matters. But the reformers need hope and wish for the best.
In his recent column, Mayor Ed Koch advised good government groups to band together in an effort to defeat incumbents:
“In New York the public shudders at the mention of its dysfunctional legislature. But now an opportunity has presented itself for good government organizations to band themselves together and attack the problem in the upcoming November elections. They should review all the legislators closely, the good and the bad . . . should convene a meeting where they would discuss how best to achieve the goal of reforming both the Democratic and Republican parties by running candidates against the incumbents in the September primary.”
The same things go on year after year. Some reformers do not fully understand that the principal concern of elected officials is holding on to their offices, or finding better ones. As long as the reformers lack the capacity or inclination to do anything about their tenure, goo-goos (short for good government, first used in the 1890’s by their critics) will continue to be the objects of amusement and mild derision. Many were well-born, and some believe that they are “above politics.” In fact, politics is above them, because it deals with realities rather than visions, and politicians get some things done, whether you like them or not.