Common Sense: Dirty politics

In the days following the State Senator Malcolm Smith/Councilmember Dan Halloran scandal, I read only one piece that I believe answers the question of what Malcolm Smith was thinking. Many have said that it made no sense. What hope would he have of being elected mayor as a Republican? Could he even expect to win a primary against a strong candidate like Joe Lhota?

Well, as they say in crime movies, “It was all about the money.” Public financing of the mayoral election — which he would have easy access to with a “Wilson-Pakula,” that would allow him into a Republican primary — was worth around $3.5 million in taxpayer dollars.

To get the $3.5 million, he would have to raise around $590,000, but he could have even caused that to make its way back to him through corrupt vendors. And I think it is safe to assume that Smith –who had a checkered history of bankruptcies, lawsuits and serious consumer complaints against his businesses — might know a shady vendor or two.

The bottom line is that Smith, in my opinion, is anything but a dumb person, as some have suggested, who got himself entangled in something that he did not completely understand. The transcripts read like a mob movie screenplay and the potential money he could steal is very large — all taxpayer dollars it is worth noting.

Smith is not the only elected official being investigated with a tie into public financing. Comptroller John Liu has seen some of his closest campaign aides arrested and now awaiting trial due to campaign finance violations.

And the story involving the misuse of taxpayer dollars does not end with public financing. Halloran was, for a price, quite agreeable to giving away to “special friends” taxpayer dollars in the form of member items. The state ended this practice several years ago because of its own scandals and the difficulties in monitoring this type of small distribution. Some not-for-profits folded, but, in reality, if a not-for-profit can only exist on taxpayer dollars, it should not be in business.

This is not the first City Council scandal involving member item money. Speaker Quinn, whose management style has come under criticism in the past due to her lax management of these dollars, claimed that she had successfully put in place new checks and balances. Apparently, she was wrong.

In so many ways, she reminds me of the old Tammany Hall bosses who held high government positions and used taxpayer dollars to help certain friends in order to gain political advantage. What Quinn and the Council do are perfectly legal, but clearly questionable at best and, as many have said, all too often lead to corruption.

Of course, Governor Cuomo until last week was quick to take credit for cleaning up Albany. That too was an overly generous description by his people of his efforts, which more and more often do not stand up well to close review. In any event, the FBI and U.S. attorney’s office must have had a good laugh at his expense.

Understandable scandals such as these only further add to a distrust of government and politics that most citizens hold. Obviously, most individuals involved are forthright and honest. But there are certainly some really bad eggs.

It’s worth noting that, for all elected officials, their careers begin with the voter at the voting booth. And even the party officials at one point or another are subject to some form of election.

If you are disgusted and do not vote, you are not doing your part to make things better. And if you are a regular voter, this could be a wake-up call to look more closely at the candidates.

For those involved in party politics, the need to vet candidates better could hardly be more apparent and the need to take seriously who you put in leadership party roles more important.

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