Some of our state leaders need to ‘count to ten’

When David Paterson was the New York state Senate minority leader, I wrote a column about him and his so-called “conference.” He thought it was so funny that he actually called to compliment me on getting it right. I spoke of the Excedrin headache he must have had, just keeping his people in line. Later when the Democrats took the state Senate, I predicted this newly acquired power would end up as a prosecutor’s middle of the night happy dream (a euphemism.) Clearly, neither party owns the franchise on greed, stupidity, insanity or self-destruction. Republican senators have gone to jail and a few big guns may well be on their way.

Sen. Malcolm Smith after being elected Majority Leader at the Capitol in Albany

Sen. Malcolm Smith after being elected Majority Leader at the Capitol in Albany

Now, after the Democrats waited years to show what they could do when they were the top dogs, some Democratic members of the state Senate appear to be intent on blowing it. This has got to be very bad news for the good, honest members of the Democratic majority; people like Sen. Liz Krueger from Manhattan’s East Side who has been working for years to bring ethics reform to the Senate. It just has to be making her and her colleagues in the reform movement nuts.

It seems as though we are regaled with daily stories of self-destructive stupidity on the part of our politicians. One Brooklyn Democrat, Kevin Parker, saw a New York Post photographer trying to take his picture and went after the guy, allegedly ruining his camera. No matter what you think of the Post, that was a pretty dumb move. What could he have been thinking? It looks from here like Sen. Parker has an anger management problem. If you are under 12 and display that kind of violence, you may avoid the criminal justice system but once you’re past that age, can get yourself into serious trouble. Better you should, as your mother told you, “Count to 10.” Malcolm Smith, the Democratic leader who is desperately trying to stay in the majority, punished Parker and took away his $22,000 “lulu” (extra money for being a committee chair). Of course, he gets to keep his salary. Newspaper reports note that Senator Parker’s team is annoyed because another hothead, actor Kiefer Sutherland, received lesser treatment for head-butting another member of the glitterati at a social event. Add to that the indictment of Senator Hiram Monserrate for beating up his girlfriend and things get even dicier.

It doesn’t stop there. The New York Daily News has been doing excellent work reporting about some of the non-profit recipients of “member items” who then turn around and help the donating politicians with campaign labor, money and other favors. As a prime example, they cite Sen. Pedro Espada, Jr. and his “Soundview Health Clinic.” Espada has also been fined for breaking the election laws.

Once, quite a while ago, a state senator threw one of my internship students out of her office because she wanted a black intern and he was white. I debated her on nationwide TV about that one and I was astounded at her arrogance and her argument that she could do that if she wanted to.

There are many, many other stories like these, adding up to a kind of arrogance bred by power. I know one about a senator who threw a plate at a staff member’s head for some perceived infraction. I suspect that once some folks get elected, they think they are untouchable. The truth is, they become prime targets for prosecutors and news media folks who know that they will make their “bones” by exposing politicians’ wrongdoing. I think that politicians should employ personal ethics counsels, just to protect them from their own stupidity. Then again, they’d have to actually listen to them. I still shake my head every time I see this sort of thing. I mean, how stupid can you be?

Originally Published in the Legislative Gazette, 5/15/09

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