State of Confusion
As someone who’s done more than his share of grousing about the Albany Bi-Partisan Iron Triangle (see also here, here,here, and here, for starters), I should be glad that any NYC daily is at long last taking an interest in a town where they haven’t managed decent day to day coverage for my entire adult lifetime, but today’s Daily News’ “State of Shame” is really a title better applied to the organ which published it, as well as to its competitors in mediocrity (in fairness, I should note that, as inadequate as the News' Albany coverage is, it does a decent job on its blog).The article purports to be a “reform” call to arms against the Albany status quo. My first problem with that is the stinking state of the status quo has been apparent for a long time, but less than a year ago, Michael Goodwin of the same paper was urgently calling for the status quo’s preservation, raising alarm over the possibility that Democratic control over the Governorship and both houses of the legislature would result in a united Democratic Party running roughshod over state government and imposing its political will. As such, the News spent last year as Albany’s Gordon Gekko, repeating the mantra that “Gridlock is good.”
Now, in the aftermath of a Democratic victory, which has not resulted in a Democratic Party capable of running roughshod over much of anything, the News is alarmed that such political will is not being imposed. Well, as the News said a year ago in that very same column, “be careful of what you wish for.”As I’ve said before, in undertaking an uphill and not unmerited battle for reform, would-be reformers are well advised to first do two things: 1) Get Your Facts Straight, and 2) Get Your Goals Straight. Though the series is not yet concluded, and may possibly improve, so far, the News’ article is erratic on the first count, and fails miserably on the second.
Factually, the article takes a kitchen sink, any weapon to hand method of making its indictment of Albany as Sodom on the Hudson, complete with the sodomy.
And therein lies the rub. Scandals involving legislative interns and rapacious Legislative Counsels do implicate Albany’s culture, and it is hoped that the series does not shy from these salacious details, which are at least interesting reading. But, what is the relevance of former Assemblyman Chris Ortloff ’s solicitation of internet pedophilia? As proven in New Jersey, where Assemblyman Neil Cohen’s child porn proclivities were dime-dropped by his colleagues, this is practically the only sort of sexual activity not protected under each state’s home version of Albany’s Bear Mountain Compact. Rather than being emblematic of anything typical of Albany, Ortloff’s peculiar proclivities are a sui generis outlier.
Similarly, mention of Hiram Monserrate’s alleged slashing of his female companion not only has no relation to his legislative duties, but took place before the man ever took office as a member of the legislature.
In building a case against Albany’s culture of corruption, citing either arrest confuses the issues concerning the real problem. In fact, the real problem concerning Monserrate is the incredibly inappropriate response it’s inspired on both sides of the aisle, with Republicans like Marty Golden achieving new heights of hypocrisy in the name of cheap politics, while Democrats like Eric Adams show a mirror image disregard for leaving such matters to the criminal justice system where they belong.
The News’ focus should be on criminal activity by legislators which involves their legislative duties; goodness knows there are more than enough of them. Focus on criminal accusations or crimes outside this area detracts from the issue at hand.
But, the article is far worse on the matter of goals. The importance of getting one’s goals straight is that you can’t get what you want if you don’t know what that is. The News does not know what it wants. In fact, their menu of complaints is so self contradictory as to render much of its whining completely meaningless.For instance, the News finds the crux of the problem to be the centralized nature of New York’s legislative power, “Making things tougher: The legislative process is almost entirely controlled by the leaders…Other states make it easier for rank-and-file members to move legislation forward…Legislative leaders buy loyalty by awarding committee chairmanships and leadership posts with thousands of dollars in stipends and doling out millions in pork-barrel spending for local projects ranging from Little Leagues to health care clinics…‘Most, if not all, of the problems in the Legislature that I experienced stem from the disproportionate power wielded by the party leaders, most especially the leader of the majority,’ former Sen. Seymour Lachman, a Brooklyn Democrat, said at a recent hearing on reform. ‘I witnessed members cede their independence and judgment to their leaders in return for favorable committee assignments, staff allocations, office space, funding for district projects, and financial and manpower support, if needed, at reelection time.’
This is a powerful argument about the nature of power, but one which seems strangely irrelevant, since this series was obviously inspired by the legislature’s grievous failure to come up with a plan for bailing out the MTA which did not involve service cuts and fare increases. In other words, the series was not inspired by the legislative leadership’s cavalier use and abuse of its power to impose its will, but rather by that leadership’s failure to use and abuse that power, as well as its failure to have any will.
In fact, in the same article in which the News rails on about the many weapons in a Leader’s arsenal to force the rank and file to dance to its tune, it somehow manages to bemoan the impotence of those leaders to control their rank and files:“ “This year, reformers hoped the legislative gridlock would be broken when Democrats took control of the Senate, giving the party control of the governor's mansion and both houses of the Legislature for the first time since the New Deal. Instead, the situation in the Senate has been worse than ever. Three rogue Democrats held up the selection of Queens Democrat Malcolm Smith as new majority leader and extracted some leadership powers in return for their support. Major legislation, including a Metropolitan Transportation Authority bailout bill, has stalled because a slim two-seat majority makes it difficult to move much of anything. With Republicans standing together as a bloc, all it takes is for one maverick Democrat on any issue to keep it from moving. Issues many Democrats had long hoped would move - the legalization of gay marriage, the elimination of the Rockefeller-era drug laws and the toughening of rent regulations - have stalled.”I happen to think Carl_Kruger and his cohorts are reprehensible boils on the state’s body politic, but it is still hard not to be amused at the News’ reaction when it encountered some legislators who actually heeded Seymour Lachman’s call and refused to “cede their independence and judgment to their leaders..” Even more amusing in the same vein, was Bill Hammond’s own reform suggestion, which was essentially, that Senate Democratic Leader Malcolm Smith forsake Kruger and company’s attempt at small time extortion and instead buy the loyalty of Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos, presumably by awarding committee chairmanships and leadership posts with thousands of dollars in stipends and doling out millions in pork-barrel spending for local projects ranging from Little Leagues to health care clinics, as well as well as staff allocations and office space.
The News eschews weak leaders, but when confronted with a strong one who can pass an MTA rescue plan, even though his conference contains many members with qualms as large as those held by Kruger and company, they also hold their nose. Shelly Silver has shown the will and the capability to buy the loyalty of his members by awarding committee chairmanships and leadership posts with thousands of dollars in stipends and doling out millions in pork-barrel spending for local projects ranging from Little Leagues to health care clinics, as well as staff allocations, office space, and financial and manpower support, if needed, at reelection time. But Silver stands just as condemned for getting the job done as Smith does for failing to do so.
After spending decades ignoring Albany’s systemic problems, the News has now frothed up a big head of empty and righteous anger with no discernable agenda beyond self-righteous fury. They are, like the Mayor, mad as hell and not going to take “IT” anymore, even if they are unsure exactly what “IT” is.
They are so angry, that they miss the real problem.
Last year, our Mayor gave at least $500,000 to the State Senate Republican’s campaign committee. That does even begin to take into account the money he gave to the campaigns of their individual candidates, or to allied accounts, and the money he directed from others. Moreover, Bloomberg has made clear his intention to do it again next year. That alone makes the Republican effort to retake the Senate a credible one, thereby attracting more money to what might otherwise be a quixotic crusade but for his efforts.
Next years is the last legislative election before the once in a decade reapportionment; the future of the New York State Republican Party lives and dies on that reapportionment; its input on that reapportionment lives and dies on the Republican effort to retake the Senate, and the Republican effort to retake the Senate lives and dies on Mike Bloomberg‘s money. Though Bloomberg is no longer even technically a Republican, he is, in essence, the State Party.
The Daily News and much of the rest of the media have made Malcolm Smith and company the scapegoats for the failure of the legislature to come to the MTA’s rescue. The Post even blames Shelly Silver for declining to put his very reasonable compromise to a vote before it is ensured of Senate passage, even though one can hardly dispute the logic of Silver’s attitude that he is willing to force his members to take a unpopular vote for a good purpose, but will not force them to do so just for the sake of spinning their wheels (Yes, the "One House Bill" is a time-honored Albany tactic, but it is reserved for popular legislation you don't really want to pass, rather than unpopular legislation that you do).
Yet no one is looking at Dean Skelos or his benefactor/enabler Mike Bloomberg.
There are at least a dozen upstate members of Skelos’ conference who represent constituencies is which a majority of the voters have never even heard of the East river, let alone crossed it. Among them is Mike Razenhoffer, whose slim victory came largely by virtue of Bloomberg’s munificence. If Mike Bloomberg cannot by one phone call raise Malcolm Smith the precise number of Republican votes he needs to pass an MTA rescue, then he’s being ripped off.
One must assume that in all the calls Bloomberg’s made to Dean Skelos to ensure he gets his precious Wilson- Pakula permission slip to run as a Republican, he’s never bothered to ask for anything for his own constituents. Meanwhile, as the fare increases, the press gives Bloomberg a free ride.
Now there’s a reason to be mad as hell.
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