The Knaves of Albany

Election Day is just four months away and I wonder: what happened to ethics as an issue?

No one in either of the major parties has been beating the drums on that front. And we have settled into the summer doldrums with no sign that any major politician is deeply concerned about what we have experienced in recent months.

Nepotism, cronyism, pension manipulations, hidden loans, missing charity money, leaking documents to lobbyists, the lack of independence of the so-called state Independence Party----there have been revelations about all of this in recent weeks. But hardly a peep out of the leaders in Albany.

Democratic Assemblyman Micah Kellner of Manhattan put it bluntly: “This is 2010. We are not living in the Boss Tweed era anymore, and yet there is seemingly a tide of graft and corruption scandals that flood out of New York, scandals which reinforce New Yorkers’ perception that all of us lawmakers are crooks or clowns.”

Among the matters that should be on the voters’ agenda is the indictment of Republican operative John Haggerty for taking 1.1 million dollars of the Mayor’s money, funneled through the state Independence Party, to buy a house. Haggerty had promised to use the funds for Election day security and poll watching- but took approximately $750,000 for himself. The Manhattan DA, Cyrus Vance Jr., accused Haggerty of “cynically misusing our political party process to hide what is common thievery.”

Another question involves whether a lobbyist for the Aqueduct entertainment group got special consideration in the bidding process. The state Inspector General is investigating possible bid rigging in the competition to build video slots at the track.

State and city pension costs, as the Daily News reported, are soaring out of sight. Are state lawmakers kowtowing to powerful unions, as the News suggests? If they are, in a time of economic adversity, this is scandalous too.

Robert Duffy, the Democratic candidate for Lt. Governor, is accused of “double dipping”---that is, earning $127, 694 as Mayor of Rochester and collecting a lifetime pension of $70,000 for his service in the Rochester Police Department. Duffy says: “I’m at peace with that whole process. I followed every law…it has been honorable, ethical and legal.” But the Republican candidate for governor, Rick Lazio, says, “it’s the height of hypocrisy for Andrew Cuomo to brag about combating ‘double dipping’ when his running mate is a walking, talking, example of abuse.”

Professor Doug Muzzio of Baruch College told me: “You’ve got a real ethics problem in Albany, where there are fools and knaves. The knaves don’t want the setup to change."

“Dysfunction, “ Muzzio says, “is bipartisan. The phrase ‘Albany ethics’ is an oxymoron.”

We hope he’s wrong but this does not look like the year for true ethics reform. We can wonder when, if ever, it will come. 

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