“People do stupid things, frankly. People do illegal things. People in power abuse power. It’s part of the human condition,” the governor said, employing a cliche to divert attention from the seamy truth that surrounds him.
It’s the Albany condition. It’s the New York City condition. It’s the New York State condition.
The arrest Thursday of Bronx Assemblyman Eric Stevenson in a naked bribery case, in which fellow Bronx Assemblyman Nelson Castro wore a wire after secretly taking his own criminal fall, brought to 40 the number of state or city officeholders convicted, arrested, penalized or booted for serious wrongdoing since 2003.
On tape, Stevenson declared:
“Bottom line . . . if half the people up here in Albany were ever caught for what they do . . . they . . . would probably be (in jail). So who are they bulls----ing?”
His words were a variation on the theme enunciated on tape by Queens City Councilman Dan Halloran, who was busted in the Smith case.
“That’s politics, that’s politics, it’s all about how much, not about whether or will, it’s about how much, and that’s our politicians in New York, they’re all like that, all like that,” Halloran allegedly said, adding: “You can’t get anything without the f--king money.”
New York is ruled by a criminal class whose motto is, “Where’s mine?” and whose members expect the answer in cash. They betray the public trust because they harbor cancered souls and because to be elected in New York is to plunge into a culture where power begets money begets power begets cynicism begets an outstretched hand.
Hey, if Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver can legally earn fees working with a trial lawyers firm while protecting the legislative interests of trial lawyers, why should Stevenson think twice about getting paid for doing the bidding of businessmen who run a senior citizens day care center?
Hey, if Mayor Bloomberg can legally pour $400,000 into the Independence Party, plus $650,000 into causes beloved by the party’s cultlike leaders, after they gave him their ballot line, why should Smith shy from paying off Republican Party leaders for essentially the same favor?
The respected and the rotten go hand-in-hand.
Silver has lowered the Assembly into a house worthy of a banana republic. Operating almost entirely behind closed doors, he demands dronelike fealty from his Democratic majority.
They vote with him, their paychecks get bigger and they get to deliver taxpayer-funded pork to their districts. He’ll also conceal their offenses when they run into trouble. They break ranks, their incomes fall and their districts starve. In organized crime, this would be called extortion. In Albany, it’s called the system.
State Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos has practiced the same boss rule — leading his members to sell out principles to public employee unions and other deep-pocketed interests.
It was Skelos who cut a deal with Pedro Espada in the notorious Senate coup of 2009. It was Skelos who served obediently under former Majority Leader Joe Bruno, saying nothing as Bruno enriched himself with “consulting fees” from favor seekers.
Silver and Skelos are now Cuomo’s partners in governing. After vowing to clean up Albany, the governor set aside a threat to establish a powerful anti-corruption investigating panel, caved to creation of a hogtied Joint Commission on Public Integrity — which has done virtually nothing — and retreated into the backrooms with Silver and Skelos.
Casting transparency to the wind, the governor has demonstrated that the private deal is the foundation of public business. He takes consolation in having secured on-time budgets and legislative accomplishments, but he did no one a favor by describing his working group as “the best legislative body in the nation.”
Here in the city, Council Speaker Christine Quinn enforces her authority with money — more than a half-billion doled out annually to members who stand with her. She also has withheld funding if a member has so much as issued an unauthorized press release that omitted Quinn’s name.
Public Advocate Bill De Blasio , who slams Quinn over the so-called member item system as the two vie for mayor, dipped into the slush fund while in the Council. He doled out more than $7 million. He funneled $439,000 to six groups and reaped $90,000 in campaign contributions from people associated with the organizations.
Controller John Liu presided over a campaign that used straw donors to get public funding from the Campaign Finance Board.
Currying favor with the Republican leaders allegedly bribed by Smith, billionaire Republican mayoral candidate John Catsimatidis poured more than $100,000 into the city’s GOP.
Catsimatidis also hired Queens Republican Vice Chairman Vincent Tabone as a $100,000-a-year counsel for his supermarket firm. Tabone is charged with taking $25,000 in Smith’s plot.
Announcing Stevenson’s arrest, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “The people of New York should be more than just disappointed. They should be angry. . . . When it is more likely for a New York state senator to be arrested by the authorities than to be defeated at the polls, they should be angry.”
The fury should extend far beyond those led away in handcuffs, to those who created the climate for the handcuffing.