The scent of corruption still pervades Albany. The latest allegations against state legislators show that the culture has not changed much.
Assemblyman Vito Lopez announced he would not seek reelection as Brooklyn Democratic chairman. In a farewell statement, the 27-year Assembly member said: “The onslaught of character attacks has put enormous emotional pressure on my family and close friends.”
Lopez was censured by the Assembly on Friday after an internal investigation substantiated charges by two female employees in his office that they had been groped and sexually harassed. Over the weekend, The New York Times reported, an earlier sexual harassment claim was settled quietly by the Assembly with a confidentiality agreement that prevents disclosure of why a payment of $103,000 was made.
Sheldon Silver, the Speaker of the Assembly, faced a withering attack from state Republican chairman Edward F. Cox who said the Assembly leadership bore heavy responsibility for the secrecy in this case. Cox demanded a special prosecutor investigate the way the Lopez matter was handled. “It was done,” he told the Times, “to cover up a crime and to settle it with hush money.”
Meanwhile the other legislative branch, the Senate, was rocked by charges that Senator Shirley Huntley of Queens took part in a conspiracy to cover up the theft of about $30 000 in taxpayer money she steered to a non-profit group she incorporated, the Parent Workshop. Her niece, it turned out, was the treasurer.
Since the censure of Assemblyman Lopez, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Sen. Charles Schumer, both Democrats, have called on him to resign.
On the editorial page of the Daily News Tuesday was a cartoon in which other targets of corruption charges, including Alan Hevesi, Pedro Espada Jr., Carl Kruger and Hiram Monserrate, hailed Lopez as “My kinda guy!” for saying: “I won’t quit.”
The cartoon affirms a characteristic that those accused of corruption seem to share. They fiercely cling to their jobs and deny wrongdoing even when evidence against them is overwhelming.
Corruption is timeless.
In imperial Rome, Tacitus said: “The more corrupt the state, the more numerous the laws.”
Thomas Jefferson wrote: “Our country is now taking so steady a course as to show by what road it will pass to destruction, to wit: by consolidation of power first and then corruption, its necessary consequence.”
And author John Steinbeck said: “Power does not corrupt. Fear corrupts…perhaps the fear of a loss of power.”
Dick Dadey of New York’s reform group, Citizens Union, told me: “The Legislature should not have the sole responsibility for policing itself. The new state ethics law makes that clear. We need another cop on the beat. A situation like this should not be handled solely by the Assembly ethics committee.
“The Joint Commission on Public Ethics was created to provide oversight over the Legislature’s own ethics monitors.”
In other words, even the scrutinizers need scrutiny.
A lot of it.