I like some of the players, but not the game

More and more, we find that once folks arrive at places of high power, they adopt the sort of self-serving behavior we cynically have come to expect from our public officials. Many of them practice “honest graft,” accepting money for their campaigns and paying the debt back later in the form of legislation or jobs for cronies. It’s not just us — bad behavior is endemic in virtually every society and is the reason we need good, fearless watch dogs. Every once in a while, someone like federal prosecutor Preet Bharara comes along and actually starts finding and punishing the wrong doers.

I fully understand how morally corrupt the system can be. I have lived in and around this jungle for a very long time and have not been shy about expressing my opinions. That said, I find myself in the midst of a real dilemma — I like a lot of the players but they sure can try my patience with some of their antics.

I know that virtually every decision coming out of Andrew Cuomo’s administration is meant to get him, if the wind blows right, to the White House. However, good social policy sometimes runs counter to that goal. He doesn’t like it when I write columns about the “old Andrew” and the “new Andrew” but frankly, I think that there is no real difference. Freud was right, it’s all over by the time we’re five years old. That’s when character is set. It’s clear that Andrew cares about what I think. In fact, I suspect that he cares about what everyone thinks of him. That’s why he spends so much time calling everyone up. He has this control thing which is slightly compulsive. He must have inherited it from his dad who did the same thing. I admit that I have my moments when I really do get angry at him and yet, when the sun sets, I admit that I care about him. I want him to succeed. When he does something really courageous, I find myself rooting for him. The gun control thing took some real guts. I suspect it may have cost him with some key demographic groups but he did it anyway. That’s courage.

Then there’s Shelly Silver, the Assembly speaker. I think he’s the longest-serving New York Assembly speaker in history. To make that happen, he has to front for his people. He has to find money to get them elected. He has to gerrymander districts. When they are in trouble, he has to get them out of it. Now, the Assembly can drive me nuts. Their self indulgence is infuriating and frankly stupid. Their popularity goes down and down as New Yorkers wise up to the game. They often spend more time getting the money to run for office than they do making the laws. Silver continues to fight for allowing legislators to make outside money that has the potential to get them into trouble, yet, once again, I have to confess that I really like Shelly Silver. He happens to be a nice man, a funny man and his heart is really in the right place when it comes to progressive social policy. The problem, of course, is that you put these people in places where they can make out like bandits and they will. That doesn’t mean that you have to dislike them as people. Once you really know them it is often hard to do so.

When you enter politics, you’re in a competitive game. You have to know the rules. I have no use for the real cheaters — the crooks who steal from the people. You can be critical of politicians and political institutions but somehow you can’t help liking, if not respecting, them. If you don’t get that, I feel badly for you.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 5/7/13

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