What can one say? According to something that came in the mail, we are up to 33 New York State legislators convicted of corruption since 2000. Generally in federal cases, since the New York State prosecutors don’t seem to be all that interested in pursuing members of their own caste. That sounds terrible, but the reality is far worse. Assembly Speaker Silver was convicted of getting $4 million in kickbacks. State Senate Majority Leader Skelos was convicted of extorting non-show jobs for his lazy son. Most of the other legislators previously caught in scandal have been involved in similar, even more petty acts of personal banal venality. That isn’t good, but its effect on my life, my children, my neighbors, my community is limited.
What matters more is this. We New Yorkers are hit with the highest state and local tax burden in the country, low population states with high mineral extraction revenues excepted. And yet we have enormous unmet public needs, from second rate schools with large class sizes to untended homeless in the streets to overcrowded trains. And to top it off, all of this is bound to get worse as a result of inadequate past infrastructure investment, huge public debts, and underfunded and retroactively enhanced pensions. And public unions, contractors, and powerful interests seeking tax breaks that keep demanding – and getting – more and more in exchange for less and less. It is this that they are truly guilty of. Not just those convicted on these petty charges, but all of them. All of them, including former Governor Pataki, former Governor Spitzer, and former legislators now serving in other offices such as Borough President or City and State Comptroller.
The only surprise to me is that Silver was actually convicted of something. It certainly isn’t a surprise that he was corrupt, a representative of self-interested groups and not any particular principles. But I had a theory as to why he was the Speaker of the Assembly. Like the thieves on Wall Street, I figured that he was smart enough to make sure his particular crimes were, in a technical sense, either not illegal or at least complicated enough to be nearly impossible to prove in court. With payoffs that were circular and disguised, rather than showing up in greenbacks in a paper bag. And that other state legislators were not as shrewd.
I recall this assertion about Robert Moses from The Power Broker.
“No one could dwell long in the inner circles of New York politics without knowing about Moses’ files, the dossiers he had compiled on the men with whom he had to deal.” “Is there anyone who, sometime in his life, hasn’t done something he is ashamed of? Well, you always had the feeling that Moses knew about that something, and that he had proof in those files of his. And that if he needed to, he would use it.”
While nobody is perfect and everyone makes mistakes, it is actually probably pretty common for people to go through life without doing anything they are all that ashamed of. But not as a New York State legislator, since doing something you are ashamed of seems to be a prerequisite for getting the job (or should I say, the sinecure). So I assumed Silver had files too, but no one would ever get anything on Silver. But I guess if he were that smart, he’d have been stealing on Wall Street instead of in the legislature.
The inefficiency of it all is appalling. The ratio of the massive damage they do, in the $billions, to the proceeds they personally receive. What they are after, most of them, is the high consumption U.S. lifestyle, but hardly on the Trump level. The lifestyle many Americans have achieved, temporarily, by having both spouses work like donkeys, while not saving for college or retirement, and running up auto loans, credit card loans, student loans, and multiple mortgages. Having all that the commercials say they must have to justify their lives, at the expense of having the wolf always at the door and no way to avoid a diminished future. Many legislators have sold off what integrity they might have had to get that same lifestyle.
And then, to reward the interests and backers who keep them in power without having to force the rest of us to pay the price right away, and pretend the price does not exist, they have used the same strategy. Selling off the future. Even as what they have done in the past keeps getting bigger, scarier, more and more relentless. Doubling and redoubling. To the point where all they can do is hope they get to Florida or the grave before the consequences cannot be put off anymore.
And so I have spent most of the past 25 years, in effect, voting no on Election Day, since there has been generally no alternative worthy of voting yes to. Perhaps I would have to vote for the only name on the ballot, but I could at least do it on a minor party line. If there was some other name on the ballot that I had never heard of, and who didn’t even campaign, I’d vote for them anyway as a way of voting no. Finally, I was so disgusted I left public service and got on the ballot on a minor party line myself, which was the biggest no of all.
I had hoped that if I made enough of an impression, perhaps others would follow my example. I didn’t, and they haven’t.
The only good news is that the new voting system makes it easier to cast write-in votes. So I can write in my name. Or the name of someone I might wish were running. Or Daffy Duck. I wonder if those votes get counted? I wonder if those who do or do not report them at the Board of Elections understand what they mean?
Every now and then, you’ll hear of an editorial or read a blog comment calling for the voters to hold elected officials accountable for this or that. Elected? It hardly seems that way to me. The only turnover is via conviction, with replacement in special elections no one hears about and few vote in – other than special interests and the political caste itself. They are laughing up there – all the way to the bank, or the federal prison.
Among the convicted have been those from New York City, the Downstate Suburbs, and Upstate New York. Republicans and Democrats – generally those in whatever political party dominates their particular area. Because that is the party the careerists would chose. All the same.
But this isn’t really the biggest problem. It is far worse than that.