The Truth About Ethics and the State We’re In
By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
Pedro Espada was destroyed at the Primary polls last week. Hiram Monserrate did no better. No offense to Gustavo Rivera who I do not know or Francisco Moya who I do know, but those elections were not their victories, but losses for two disgraced has-beens. We wish the best to Rivera and Moya, who we endorsed, the best but see the story in the selective defeat of the losers.
The inside establishment turned on Espada and Monserrate. Members of their own party, their caucus and many of their former friends and allies villainized the two. Hiram first became a target of his colleagues and party and suffered the humiliation when removed by his colleagues last year, citing his behavior and conviction of a misdemeanor in a domestic violence incident – he was found innocent of the major charges.
Espada is facing charges of corruption for his alleged misuse of public funds in his Bronx healthcare business and rightfully was condemned by his party and colleagues.
But I think it is clear they both suffered their Democratic colleagues’ animus when they broke with the Democratic Caucus and threw Senate control to the Republicans in the summer of 2009. Then they returned to their caucus extracting prices which were paid by the angry Democratic caucus.
Well, the repayment is now complete. The Senate Democratic caucus-led vendetta has destroyed both of the fallen amigos politically. Neither again will be able to obtain elective office or hold appointed jobs. They are both pariahs so painted by a political world that has tolerated such behaviors when the offenders are loyal party members whose votes can be counted on.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not condemning the Democratic Senators who turned on Pedro and Hiram; their behaviors deserved it.
But there have been many legislators before them who were abusive, corrupt or so embarrassing to the Legislature but their colleagues looked the other way.
It took an insurgent named Shirley Huntley to beat a physically abusive Ada Smith in the Democratic Primary for State Senate four years ago. Smith’s colleagues and party looked the other way in spite of a clear pattern. Brooklyn State Sen. Kevin Parker hasn’t been reprimanded by his colleagues in spite of a series of incidents of physical abuse. Smith, Parker, Monserrate: they all should have been called on the carpet and punished by the Senate; but only Hiram who deserted his party and threw the Senate into chaos last summer was punished.
And who joined Hiram – or led him – in last summer’s greater dysfunction than usual? Pedro Espada – an apparent crook.
He was an apparent crook when the Republicans embraced him and made him Senate President in exchange for his vote. He was an apparent crook when the Dems kept him as Senate President and increased his member item allocation to buy him back.
But the history of the Legislature shows apparent crooks are supported by their caucus until convicted of a felony. The list of unethical crooks that should have been abandoned by their colleagues is long, starts with former Senate Leader Joe Bruno and runs straight on til morning.
Without prejudging any member of the Legislature, it is clear to me that the ethics oversight of the members by the Assembly and Senate is a political self-serving process to protect those in office.
As we approach the potential new era of reform forced upon the Legislature, ethics looms large.
Right after the courts or the governor rejects their self-serving attempts at reapportionment, look to the budget process and ethics to top the list of reforms to be rammed down the legislature’s throats.
And that’s the State of New York.MSchenkler@QueensTribune.com
What We Learned From The Primary
By HENRY STERN
In an initial take on last week’s primary, we offer some nuggets of fact, surmise and opinion.
1. The Democratic and Republican party organizations continue to weaken. They are most influential in races where no one knows who the candidates are, usually for judgeships or at the bottom of the ticket. For more important offices, where voters have familiarity with the candidates, they make their own decisions as to whom they will support, guided to some extent by the campaigns and the media.
The generally low Democratic turnout placed a premium on machine support. Percentage wise, more Republicans cast ballots.
2. Tuesday was a good night for incumbents. As far as we know, only two state senators were defeated. Pedro Espada, Jr., in the Bronx, against whom the entire civilized world had combined, lost 62-33 to Gustavo Rivera; and Bill Stachowski of Buffalo, lost, 63-26, to Tim Kennedy.
Stachowski, a state senator for 28 years, was a target of environmental groups for his opposition to clean up of toxic wastes, and gay organizations objected to his hostility to marriage equality. Stachowski was supported by the Working Families and the Independence Party. He held up the state budget because he insisted on greater autonomy for SUNY Buffalo. However, in the end he caved and disappointed his constituents.
Tim Kennedy is an Erie County legislator, who linked Stachowski to the dysfunction in Albany. We also suspect there were demographic changes in the district since the Polish-American solon, a former football star at Holy Cross, was first elected a generation ago. Both candidates signed the Koch pledge.
3. The only two Assemblymembers to be denied renomination were Ginny Fields in Suffolk County, who lost to Ken Mangan, 53-47, and Francine DelMonte of Niagara County, who lost to John Accardo, 52-48. Reform was not a particular issue in these races, all four candidates having signed the pledge.
4. The majority of incumbent state legislators were not challenged by other aspirants. Therefore, primary elections were not held for those positions.
Fifteen incumbent senators were challenged. For the remaining 47 seats (out of a total of 62), the incumbents were unchallenged.
Twenty-seven assembly members were challenged. For the remaining 123 seats (out of 150) the incumbents were not challenged in a primary.
5. According to Jerry Skurnik, who is an expert in these matters, the reason there are proportionally more contested city than state elections is that the city’s campaign finance system provides for matching funds on a 6-to-1 basis for contributions of $175 or less. The maximum public subsidy for a city council race was $88,550 in 2009, and it will rise in 2013. The expenditure limit was $161,000; it too will rise.
There is no provision for matching funds in state elections, so the candidate must raise all the funds he spends. This discourages candidacies, because to attain a minimal level of exposure in an assembly race against an incumbent, spending close to $100,000 is a requirement. Double that sum for a state senate race. Since people are usually unlikely to give large sums to local candidates, there is a great advantage to aspirants who can fund their own races.
6. The roll out of the new electronic voting machines was flawed, drawing the ire of the public and spurring elected officials to berate the Board of Elections. Now we must find out how accurate the electoral counts tabulated by the machines are. The Board is conducting a lottery to randomly select 3 percent of the election districts in the five boroughs for a hand recount of the paper ballots processed by the machines. We will keep you posted on how the two sets of figures match up. Theoretically, they should be identical.
7. The 2011 legislature will be very much like the 2010 legislature, except that the coup conspirators Espada and Monserrate will be gone. We cannot predict which party will control the state senate next year, and what the effect of the Paladino candidacy will be on Republican legislative candidates. Will the GOP be energized by its standard bearer, or will frightened moderates desert the elephant line?
Democratic senate leader John Sampson of Brooklyn will presumably succeed Pedro Espada as majority leader, if the Democrats retain their senate majority. Sampson has written a letter signing on to the Koch reforms, as has Dean Skelos, the Republican leader, and all his troops.
8. If the senators keep their written pledges, substantial legislative reform would be a strong possibility in the areas of redistricting by an independent commission, ethics reform identifying and limiting the private employment of elected public servants in the legislature, and requiring a state budget to be balanced budget pursuant to generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP). This is the law in New York City, but not in New York State.
The Assembly will be a harder sell. Speaker Silver says that he would allow some reforms, but he has balked at an independent redistricting commission.
An important element of the Speaker’s power to enforce his will is the ability to punish refractory (from his viewpoint) legislators by abolishing their districts, merging them with others, or removing their homes from their districts. An independent commission would presumably not be congenial to spot redistricting on the basis of a legislator’s independence or submission to the Speaker.
The leadership has many other powers over individual members, including committee assignments, lulus (pensionable payments to committee chairs and miscellaneous favored designees), the use of the Rules Committee to advance or to bottle up bills, the assignment of office space and other facilities, etc. The Speaker’s power was likened many years ago, with regard to the City Council, to the authority of a Mother Superior in a convent. The power to terminate a political career by reapportionment is a superfluous award of authority to the most powerful man in state government (with the occasional, but not recent, exception of the governor).
It is now 40 days to the election. We will be following the race.StarQuest@NYCivic.org