With word of Senator John Sampson’s arrest on corruption and embezzlement charges, it’s impossible to ignore the sense that New York’s Democratic Party is in need of a serious intervention.
Yes, Republicans have been vulnerable to the temptations of sleaze, but consider the Democratic perp-walk list over just the last five years:
Senator John Sampson, Senator Malcolm Smith, Senator Pedro Espada, Senator Efrain Gonzalez ,Senator Shirley Huntley, Senator Carl Kruger, Senator Hiram Monserrate, Assemblyman Eric Stevenson, Assemblyman Nelson Castro, Assemblyman William Boyland, Assemblyman Anthony Seminerio, Assemblywoman Diane Gordon, New York City Councilman Larry Seabrook, Comptroller Alan Hevesi, and Governor Eliot Spitzer.
That’s a long list of men and women, many in positions of highest leadership and authority within the state’s Democratic Party, indicted or convicted or resigned because of illegal behavior — and again, this is in the last half-decade alone.
Our Albany correspondent, Karen DeWitt, is reporting that there is new information about other Democratic lawmakers who may be in the cross-hairs for Federal investigators, because they were secretly recorded by Sen. Huntley, who wore a wire.
Those recorded by Huntley include “Senate Democratic colleagues Eric Adams, Jose Peralta, Ruth Hassel Thompson and Velmanette Montgomery, along with a City Councilman Ruben Wills, the former spokesman for the Senate Democrats, Curtis Taylor, and Melvin Lowe, identified in the court papers as a former political consultant and associate of State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.”
All of these people are innocent until proven guilty, but there’s a lot of blood (and a lot of sharks) in those waters.
Which shouldn’t come as any surprise. There have been signs of trouble percolating out of Albany for years. This from the New York Daily News:
[John] Sampson’s tenure as leader was characterized by chaotic sessions, bloated payrolls and an almost never-ending stream of controversies. It was eventually revealed that under Sampson’s command, the Senate overspent its budget by at least $7 million.
A state Inspector General’s report in late 2010 blasted Sampson and other Senate Democrats for steering the multi-billion-dollar contract to operate a racino at Aqueduct to the politically connected Aqueduct Entertainment Group.
Some Democrats will argue that this is a bipartisan issue, that systemic reforms are needed that will keep all of Albany’s politicos from burying their snouts in the corruption trough. Fair enough.
But it is increasingly difficult to ignore the sense that a Tammany Hall style culture now pervades the state’s Democratic Party, and it is even more difficult to ignore the fact that Andrew Cuomo has done nothing to restore order to the party that he leads.
Granted, from 2006 until 2010, Cuomo was obligated to follow a largely non-partisan track as state Attorney General.
But even in that role, it’s hard to imagine that calls for tough anti-corruption reforms within the Democratic movement would have been considered out of bounds.
As governor, meanwhile, there is little evidence that Cuomo has taken the steps necessary to purge the Democratic machine of those who would dip their hands in the till.
He has also failed to implement the kinds of internal checks and balances that might have identified and eliminated problem candidates, or create competitive primaries to challenge entrenched politicos.
Instead, he has distanced himself from the Democratic Party, attempting to portray himself as a kind of post-partisan governor, floating above the grime of Albany.
I’m not sure that works anymore. Strong leadership starts at home and within your own movement. The Cuomo family is deeply identified with New York’s Democratic culture and right now that culture appears increasingly toxic.
It’s also worth pointing out that Democratic corruption appears to be thwarting the will of average voters in the state.
Over the last five years, New Yorkers have cast their ballots in such a way as to create a Democratic majority in both chambers of the legislature — only to have their desires thwarted by Democratic bungling and malfeasance.
This means that laws, policies and programs that a majority of New Yorkers support are being derailed, not by sincere and ethical Republican opposition, but by crooks within the governor’s party.
If Cuomo steps up to the next political level, his record in New York state will almost certainly include this spreading of stain of indictments, wire-taps, and money changing hands in alleyways.
He’ll either be seen as a guy who ignored the swamp in his own backyard, or the guy who moved decisively to help clean it up.