New York Politics: Rod Serling Meets Lewis Carroll

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff, Rochester Business Journal.

Kent GardnerMy Chicago-area brother & I engage in a friendly competition over whose political culture is more entertaining. It is a contest I would like to lose, although my hopes have been dashed in recent months. Even with former governor Rod Blagojevich competing in the new season of The Apprentice (begins Sunday!), New York is winning handily. The best capsule summary goes to Baruch’s Doug Muzio who dubbed New York politics “Rod Serling meets Lewis Carroll.”

The hapless Eric Massa complained over the weekend that he’d been assaulted (verbally, thank goodness) by a naked Rahm Emmanuel (Obama’s Chief of Staff) in the Congressional locker room. Don’t we get enough bad melodrama on the floor of the House? And why did he feel compelled to tell us about it? Apparently the pending ethics probe is part of a big conspiracy to prevent Massa from opposing the President’s health care plan. Politico’s report of “unwanted advances” toward a young male staffer must be part of the plot.

Yes, conspiracy is back. With problems confronting both Charlie Rangel and David Paterson, Harlem Assemblyman Keith Wright said “I don’t believe in conspiratorial theories, but it seems as though the conspiratorial gods (came down today).” I can see his point. The charges against Rangel are certainly trumped up. Four rent controlled apartments? What’s the problem? Forgetting to report a few hundred thousand in income from property in the Dominican Republic is SO American. And who could blame him for accepting free trips to the Caribbean? Hustling earmarks for projects named after you is business as usual, particularly in New York State (see the Joseph L. Bruno Stadium).

Charges that David Paterson solicited World Series tickets from the Yankees seem, well, minor league in comparison. Yet if the Governor did attempt to persuade Sherr-una Booker from testifying in court against his aide (and her ex) David Johnson, he’s guilty of extraordinarily bad judgment. Did he think that no one was watching? That’s a lesson he should have learned from former Governor Spitzer, aka Client #9.

“Chauffeurgate” drove Alan Hevesi from his post as NYS Comptroller in 2007. Using a state driver for his ailing wife was nothing compared to the level of corruption that has been revealed since—Hevesi and associates have been accused of steering investments from the state pension fund (then worth about $150 billion) in exchange for cash and favors. As the New York Daily News opined in December, Hevesi was “either a monumental fool or a big-time crook.” The Securities and Exchange Commission and Attorney General Cuomo are still investigating.

The FBI finally caught up with Joe Bruno after years of rumor. Convicted in December on corruption charges, he’s to be sentenced at the end of this month.

Then there’s Hiram Monserrate. A state senator Queens, he was convicted of assaulting his girlfriend and was expelled by his colleagues in the NYS Senate.

Aside from “winning” the mock contest with my brother, my only consolation is that democracy and a free press does work, if slowly and belatedly. Joe Bruno might yet go to prison, although he lived to a ripe old age in power before investigations into his past got serious. The facts finally caught up with Charlie Rangel. Yet while he’s lost his Ways & Means Committee chairmanship, he’s still in office. Yes, the NYS Senate had the guts to kick out Hiram Monserrate. But don’t count him out yet—he’s running in Tuesday’s special election to fill his seat. If the voters in his district want to re-elect a guy like that, they get the chance on Tuesday. The people who lived under the thumb of folks like Joseph Stalin, Mobutu Sese Seko, Papa Doc Duvalier, Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein—where to stop?—didn’t get that opportunity.

Kent Gardner, Ph.D. President & Chief Economist
Published in the Rochester (NY) Business Journal March 12, 2010