The Political Cycle: Power, Money, Corruption
By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
Reform continues to be the six-letter word of the political moment.
No, not that reform is happening, but that it is so desperately needed and barely existent.
Our two mini need-for-reform scenarios of the moment follow:
Paragraph 2.a of the Assembly rules: “A member may abstain from a vote only on the grounds that such vote will constitute a conflict of interest.”
Now there are three buttons in front of each Assembly member: a green for yes, a red for no and an orange for abstain. We asked one member about it and our brief exchange went something like this:
Trib: What happens if you push the orange button?
Assemblymember: “They come over to you and ask what is your conflict?”
Trib: Who asks? Who is they?
Assemblymember: Assembly staff.
Trib: And you tell them, you just don’t know – you haven’t read the bill and it would be a conflict of interest to cast a vote without knowing what you’re voting on.
Assemblymember: They tell you to vote.
Trib: If you don’t?
Assemblymember: “They’ll remove the abstention and mark you absent on the vote. Do it a couple of times and you’ll wind up losing staff and budget and getting no member items.”
So we called another member to check it out.
The story was confirmed, emphasizing that at first the Assembly staff is gentle in informing you to vote. But our discussion continued along the following lines:
Trib: At the end of the session, aren’t there a huge number of bills reported out of the Rules Committee which don’t have to age and therefore members have no chance to read them or understand what they’re voting on?
Assemblymember 2: Hundreds [of bills] are passed that way.
Trib: How do you tolerate that? You can’t read them.
Assemblymember 2: “It’s not the worst part. Even when there is time, most members don’t attempt to read the bills .”
Trib: Hmmm! And will we have an on time budget?
Assemblymember 2: Yes because of public pressure – it’s the only reason it happened last year.
Trib: Will we see reform in the future?
Assemblymember 2: They are resting on the baby steps we took last year. Can they get away without doing anything else? Is the public still interested?
Trib: We’re just not sure; but this paper isn’t going anywhere.
And in the other house, several Democratic Senators called for an end to the heavy-handed censorship the Republican Majority inflicts on Democratic members.
Complaints included the control of resources of Democratic Senators by the Republican Majority effectively determining what could be said on their websites and in newsletters using a double standard when determing what was appropriate.
According to published reports, Queens Senator John Sabini complained that: “Republican Majority’s censorship efforts extend to participation in Senate programs and events. Each year, Senate Republicans hold special events to honor their constituents. One such event recognizes ‘Women of Distinction’ and another honors distinguished Veterans. Despite being advertised as productions of ‘the New York State Senate,’ Democratic Senators have been informed that they are not allowed to nominate their constituents for recognition, or participate in the events in any way.”
We hear it’s not much better for Republicans in the Assembly.
They haven’t scratched the surface.
Just a six-letter word!
Last week, my column, “Political Scandal Too Close To Home” continued to bemoan the evolutionary path politics is taking towards corruption. In my commentary I borrowed the words “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” and foolishly attributed them to Socrates.
Knowing I was wrong, Google quickly reminded me it was Lord Acton, the nineteenth century political historian who deserves credit for the words that predicted the path that led to me chronicling political scandals. However, it was my first and uncorrected draft that I mistakenly filed with editorial as I left the office Monday.
I leave editing and checking my column to Trib Managing Editor Brian Rafferty who is convinced I’m omniscient and rarely challenges me on politics, history or Queens. Or maybe Brian was just too busy meeting with Reby, a recent model of Queens who stopped to pick up copies of her spread in the Trib.
But the error got into print and before the day was out, there was the voice mail from a knowledgeable State Senator and former history teacher, Toby Stavisky, saying, “Mike I gotcha.” Yes, Toby knew the words belonged to Lord Acton.
Shortly thereafter, former Trib Managing Editor, newlywed NY Post reporter Jeremy Olshan emailed: “Nice column. but didn’t you mean Lord Acton?”
Yes Jeremy, I was just trying to make sure you were paying attention.
To the rest of you, my recent columns hopefully left you with my point that politics has taken a wrong turn, driven by power — it is much too close to the ethical edge of corruption.
POWER AND MONEY!
My longtime friend and accountant Jerry Kaniuk spun it slightly differently, but more accurately in his e-mail:
As always, a superb article. You never fail to impress and amaze me, even though I should be used to it by now even though you are an ultra-liberal.
I am only sad that you don’t realize that it is not only power but also money that corrupts. It’s the system that all of you support. . . It’s not okay to take money . . . but then it is if it is a campaign contribution. . . and then they fall to the dark side. Like virginity, it is black and white and once you make it gray, you are bound to get what we have.”
One wise city hoohah responded to our Brian McLaughlin observations by noting that since he ran the entire union hiring process, it seems a lot easier to understand the troops he was able to produce every Election Day.
The recent questions about McLaughlin and the history of union leaders’ complicity in bid rigging and other corrution, reinforces the money, power and corrution cycle.
But as Lord Acton also said: “Truth always prevails in the end,”
THE KINGSTON TRIO
This past Saturday night, Lil and I had the pleasure of seeing the Kingston Trio at the Landmark Theater in neighboring Port Washington. And as I date myself and many of my readers who remember them – three talented, clever musicians with acoustic guitars and banjos who sang simple and memorable melodies – the Trio’s three-part harmonies which told simple stories paved the way for the music to come.
Their music set the stage for Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul and Mary and the entire protest movement of the 60’s. And yes, they’re still performing. The group’s members have changed several times in the past half century -- but their unmistakable sound is the same and it’s wonderful. They were my introduction to music. They opened the door to the world of folk and folk rock. They paved the path right to the door of the Queens poet of my generation, my college fraternity brother Paul Simon.
As I think of Sounds of Simon and the Trio Poor Ol’ Charlie on the MTA, I wonder if the poets of today’s generation will have the same meaning four decades later. Paul Simon’s role as king of Queens musicians has faded. Today, a thug, with a microphone as an instrument, violence and sex as a subject and nine bullets inside him as credentials, has replaced him. 50 Cent’s (and the entire rap genre cultivated in southeast Queens) is the music of our borough today.
And as I sat and listened to the Kingston Trio’s melodic stories Saturday night, I was unable to fathom what has happened to society’s music. And thank goodness my iPod gets filled with my music – a broad spectrum of my music — and there is no room for rap.