Let’s say you were elected to public office, nationally or locally. What would you do with that opportunity? Would you seek to improve your constituents’ quality of life, or would you focus on what’s in it for you?
Unfortunately, we have far too many examples of politicians choosing the latter.
Corruption and self-serving political behavior are everywhere. With news that the current president’s personal lawyer and campaign manager are guilty of multiple counts including tax evasion, bank fraud and campaign finance violations, it is hard to avoid the presumption that this venal behavior is tightly connected to and possibly directed by the man at the top.
I say that not with the glee of someone who is looking to get rid of the current president, but with a lawyerly regard for the facts and evidence presented in these cases.
Scandals involving politicians out for themselves reach deep into the Republican Congress. It is important, however, for Democrats to calm our glee over the potential ramifications of the Cohen-Manafort double whammy. In New York, we have our own skeletons to confront, and they go right through the heart of the Democratic Party.
At a recent debate, all four candidates for state attorney general stated they would be open to investigating Gov. Cuomo for potential violations. What is the governor accused of? Nothing yet. But like the current president, he has kept company with some very seedy individuals. One top aide, Joseph Percoco — who was once known as Cuomo’s “enforcer” — was found guilty of corruption this past March.
Another, Alain Kaloyeros — a key architect in the governor’s economic development initiative for western New York — was convicted in July of a bid-rigging scheme.
Then there’s Todd Howe, a key witness against Percoco, who was arrested in the midst of the trial and whose testimony was discredited after he admitted to defrauding a credit card company. Howe is a former lobbyist and also a Cuomo loyalist.
Cuomo has not been charged with a crime, but like the current president, the question needs to be asked: What friends do you keep?
Moreover, to what lengths will you go to protect your own hide? The New York Times reports that the Cuomo administration had fought tooth and nail to maintain the secrecy of emails that reveal this corruption.
When politicians’ primary goals are to enhance their own power and line their pockets, a number of bad results ensue. Corrupt dealing leads to taxpayer money being wasted and diverted from worthy initiatives. Political venality and ensuing cover-ups take time and effort away from the actual process of governing. And citizens, faced with the news of these affairs, end up with less trust in government.
This makes some people vulnerable to the Reagan argument that “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” And it was one factor that led millions of voters to support a compromised and despicable real estate developer to become President of the United States. After all, he promised to “drain the swamp.”
Locally, the actions of self-serving politicians have real world implications on their constituents. Take the New York state senate, win which eight elected Democrats — calling themselves the Independent Democratic Conference — caucused with Republicans for the past eight years. This alone did not lead to a Republican majority, but it was a factor in keeping their fellow Democrats out of power.
Moreover, the IDC’s actions mainly served to benefit themselves, as members received illegal campaign contributions through a committee partially aligned with Republicans. Through this arrangement, the leader of the IDC, our state senator Jeffrey Klein, and his allies in the IDC received bigger offices, more money for staff, and extra stipends tacked on to their senate salaries.
Klein and his supporters argue that joining with Republicans enabled the passage of progressive legislation such as gun control and an increase in the minimum wage. However, with Republicans and the IDC controlling the legislative agenda, a host of other bills failed to gain a vote.
If the IDC Members had acted like Democrats they were elected to be, they would have exerted leadership on these issues, and at least let them come to a vote. Instead, they let their personal ambitions get in the way of solving real issues for real people in their districts.
Of course, just in time to defend their seats in the upcoming Democratic primaries, the IDC recently announced it would disband. We’ve been through this before. In 2014, the IDC made a similar announcement, but didn’t keep its word.
Jeff Klein has been my state senator since 2004, and I have voted for him in the past. He is not a dirty dealer on the level of our current president, nor has he run around with the kinds of cronies our governor does.
But during his 14 years in the senate, he has lost his way. He and his IDC colleagues have enriched themselves and enhanced their power at the expense of good progressive actions that would benefit their constituents.
This is the heart of our power as citizens: When politicians don’t serve our interests, we must vote them out.
To that end, I am strongly supporting Alessandra Biaggi, who is challenging Klein for the Democratic nomination in my district.
An unabridged version of this Point of View appeared in the author’s blog, The Other Side, located at TheOtherSide-sm.com.