Political Organized Crime - Part I
Everyone recognizes that bid rigging of cement or traffic light contracts are the work of organized crime. However when elected officials rig our state and city elections to ensure that every incumbent gets reelected, no one calls their deliberate strategy criminal and organized.
Newspaper editorials and good government groups push for individual fixes to our crisis in local government – for example, public financing of state campaigns. But, no one says outright that our right to representative democracy has been hijacked. Local elections have become the “ins” verses the “outs” and the process has been rigged to block any of the “outs” from winning. Our local elections have become so noncompetitive, that, behind public view, most incumbents, regardless of party or reform beliefs, work together as the “ins” to keep the outs “out.”
A number of factors have caused the collapse of local competitive elections: The barriers erected to block ballot access to non-incumbent candidates; redistricting to protect incumbents and divide organized communities; the political use of the government budget by incumbents; the disconnect of the public and the press from the political process, and replacement the clubhouse system with public relations professionals.
Democracy is strongest and the public is best represented when one candidate gets 49% and the other gets 51%. In a close election incumbents are forced to pay attention to their voter’s needs and their legislative leaders funnel programs and services to their district to help them get reelected.
Rigging Elections Build Incumbent Cynicism Against the Public
Today, with the shut down of competitive elections and the rise of public relations experts that program the incumbent to tell the public what they want to hear, the public’s needs and delivering on campaign promises are unimportant. The only time elected officials talk about affordable housing is in the campaign flyers or newsletters they send to their constitutions. Campaign flyers are also the only place the public can occasionally see an incumbent who is being strongly challenged, criticize the way Albany or the City Council operates. Once the election is over and the incumbent wins, not another peep is heard on the dysfunctional government. Incumbents, proudly, and without shame, operate in a public relations Potemkin Village where three men write all the bills that they vote on without even reading. It can only be describe as an organized criminal act to knowingly participate in a political system organized to mislead the public, reduce their influence and remain silent.
Rigging Elections Builds Incumbent Loyalty to Their Leaders
Another result of the permanent incumbent and the public being cut out of Albany, State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno and, the Assembly Majority Leader Shelly Silver have acquired alarming doctoral powers. With those powers they have changed Albany into a culture of “pay to play.” Many of the lobbyists who run the state government are family members, former employees or lovers of government leaders.
The rigging of elections has caused the public to become much less interested in politics. In 1982 almost a million more people voted for governor than voted for that position this year. The voters are saying collectively, "What is the use in voting, when noting changes. The public wants change but is trapped by the rigged voting system. Almost 70% of the public supports term limits to fix Albany. This disconnect of the public has caused a chain reaction which has made incumbent reelections even easier and strengthens their ability and will to “circle the wagons” and ignore outside opinion and critics."
Leaders now openly work with special interests and lobbyists, making millions for their friends, stealing the state and city blind. Editorials of every newspaper have attacked the way Albany is run. The leadership simply ignores the attacks and suffers no consequences. Incumbents not only rig elections, they have rigged all oversight, regulations and laws designed to keep them in line. It has been a long time since the New York State Board of Elections went after anyone for illegal campaign spending. Brian McLaughlin will probably be able to use the money he raised running for mayor and put illegally in his Assembly account, to hire lawyers to defend him from using his government position to steal from the public.
Silver and Bruno have created an abnormal system where the average elected representatives increasingly see the complete collapse of ethical and legal consequences and take advantage of their positions to enrich themselves. When you consider how reluctant District Attorneys are to investigate political corruption because they need the elected officials and party supporters to help them get reelected, it is quite amazing that in the last three years 8 elected officials have been indicted. Can you imagine what would happen if Governor Spitzer appointed a Moreland Commission to investigate corruption in government with the power to prosecute?
Cutting out the public has made Albany and City Government into a roman orgy of greed. Conflict in Albany today is about who will get the money. The fight over building the Senator Moynihan train station is not whether it would be a good thing for the public, it is really about whose friends will get the job. Shelly Silver’s developers who want to relocate the Garden or Governors Pataki’s developers who want to build the station over the Post Office. The so called “Three Men in the Room," decision makers who ran Albany like an organized crime family for the last twelve years, have committed the heinous crime of robbing New Yorkers of its representative government, but will never be indicted for it.
How the Incumbent Protections Society Keeps Itself in Power
The first obstacle to run a campaign against an incumbent is to get enough petitions to get on the ballot and survive a court challenge by a judge who was elected by the county organization supporting the incumbent. Those who defend the gate-keeping petitioning process say it shows the candidate’s local support. They seem to forget the fact that most incumbents trade election inspector jobs for petitions. The petitioning argument has been totally discredited by the increasing number of candidates in recent years (many of whom are incumbents) who hire firms to get them on the ballot.
Even if a challenger gets enough signatures to get on the ballot, his/her campaign is still hurt by the funds which must be spent to hire a lawyer to defend a court case to remove him/her from the ballot. Winning in court and staying on the ballot is no victory or escape from the election rigging process, because the challenger was forced to waste money and more than half of the time he/she has to campaign fighting in court to stay on the ballot.
The election rigging process starts long before the campaign starts. Member items bills have given incumbents not only the opportunity to buy support from local groups in their district; it also gives them the ability to threaten those that do not support them with loss of funding. If a reporter would take the time to visit a senior center in a district where a candidate was challenging an incumbent, he or she would be surprised by the sheer number of seniors who believe that if they vote against the incumbent, their senior center would be closed. The same fear is present in most of the groups and organizations that receive these member item funds from their local elected officials. This "member item extortion racket" that incumbent use to stay in power, also includes billions of dollars of programs that they take credit for from the rest of the government budget they pass.
A generation ago, state legislators and councilmen did not have district offices or staffs. Today incumbents are protected by a number of reelection tools designed to keep them in office, most disguised as government services. Every elected official has several staff members and at least one community office. Incumbents are allowed to do mailings and newsletters to their constituents at tax payer’s expense. Many of the mailing is prepared by legislative employees who are hired by the leadership to protect the incumbent legislature. It not enough that New York State has the highest operating cost of any state legislature in the nation, the Democrats and Republicans leaders in Albany have developed PACs which collect millions to protect their incumbent legislators. The few incumbents who do get in trouble, like Serf Maltese in the 15th Senatorial District, who narrowly survived Albert Baldeo's challenge, receive hundreds of thousands of dollars from his party’s PAC to hire campaign workers and send out mailings.
Rigging Elections Eliminates Opposition and Reduces Need for Services
This entire culture of the Incumbents Protection Society has eliminated opposition inside our legislatures and has eliminated the need to serve the public. It has become almost impossible for a neighborhood activist willing to fight the dysfunctional government and corruption to get elected. Today, Legislative leaders pick local candidates to run for office and support them with money, campaign workers and resources needed to get elected. These chosen candidates find it very easy to melt into the Albany culture and accept the decision of three men.
The needs of seniors for low cost prescription drugs, or the needs of the Ozone Park homeowner to stop overdevelopment, or for schools to be properly funded, have been unmet in recent years, because incumbents get reelected even if they do not meet the needs or expectations of their constituents.
Breaking this organized crime conspiracy or cartel to hijack democracy by restoring representative government to the people of New York State will need real leadership, many changes and years to accomplish. The best ways to achieve this mission to restore democracy to elections in New York State, include:
1. A massive FBI sting operation designed to indict dozens of elected officials.
2. Change the Public Advocate into a law enforcement job to get around inner county loyalties – A citywide district attorney.
3. A court challenge by good government groups to end the rigging of our local elections, similar to New York University’s Brennan Center, to wit, its declaration of war on the way Supreme Court Judges were elected (Lopez Torres v. NYS Board of Elections).
4. Or the will of a new governor who sees his job of restoring representative government to his state and has the ability to fight against those who organize to rig the system for profit and power.