We’re Number Two
I have always believed the great state of New Jersey was first in civic corruption. It was kind of a perverse pride, right up there with New Jersey having the smallest state bird, the mosquito, and being first in export of college students out of state (that was before Rutgers, the State University, entered the den of iniquity, called big time football).
Taking pride in being the civic crime capital was an example of New Jersey exceptionalism, as I saw it, of all those years unthreatened as a leader in criminality amongst its public officials.
But recent events are shaking my conviction that we are number one. So many states are emerging as growth centers of civic misfeasance, malfeasance and no-feasance, I am beginning to think corruption may be as American as apple pie.
The most alarming threat to our claims of immoral superiority may be coming from our bistate neighbors across the Mighty Hudson, judging by astonishing things going on lately in Albany.
What is the closing of a few toll lanes for a few days in Fort Lee; a few mismanagement deeds in packing the Port Authority with henchpeople; a few errors in budget calculations; a few bungles in handing out Hurricane Sandy relief funds, a few campaign promises unfulfilled by our chief executive in the abuse of powers game?
All piddling misdemeanors, compared to the abuses of powers in Albany these days. Well, they aren’t called “The Empire State” for nothing.
As you know, New York is ruled by Andrew Cuomo, who is seen by the public as a chip off the old block, son of an ethical, decent man, a former governor named Mario, who I would have voted for President in 1968 or any other year. A poster boy for nepotism, young Cuomo was a good government candidate who promised to clean up corruption in Albany. He was appalled by all the scandals, indictments and embarrassments (26 cases, at last count by the New York Times) in Cuomoland.
I can understand why he was upset. The Albany perp walk had become a regular feature on the nightly local news, like weather and sports. In one month, three state legislators were indicted on Federal charges, including my favorite handcuffed public servant, the twit accused of trying to bribe his way on to the New York City mayoralty ballot.
With the sort of fanfare one would expect with the invention of sliced bread, the governor announced the formation of the Moreland Commission, which would restore the public’s trust in government. Composed of 16 stalwarts, who Cuomo II described as “some of New York’s sharpest government and legal minds,” they had the freedom to investigate wherever their noses led them. “Anything they want to look at, they can look at-–me, the lieutenant governor, the attorney general, the comptroller, any senator, any assemblyman,” he proclaimed on Aug. 19, 2013. The people of the state should sleep better, the governor said.
On a clear day in Albany, I am told, it’s hard not to see where the public sector and the private sector aren’t intertwined, involving lawmakers up and down the governance chain.
For nine months, the Moreland commissioner crime-busters were licking their chops. On its shortlist of 20 potential cases: a legislator allegedly using campaign funds to pay his sun-tanning bills. He didn’t have time to sit in the sun, while also serving the people and his other job at a law firm that did business with the state. Another legislator appeared to be supporting his girl friend in a life she had grown accustomed to in Connecticut, instead of New York. Another was suspected of throwing parties for his grandchildren and putting gifts on his office expense account.
Witness tampering…accusations of no-show jobs…winks and nods up and down the chain…
None of this prevented the Governor from suddenly closing down his Moreland Commission after nine months.
As a country bumpkin from New Jersey, I cant be expected to understand the thought process involved in sophisticated New York politics, but I gathered what the governor did not approve of was the way some of cases were leading to the governor’s office.
“I appointed the committee,” he explained. “Why should they be investigating me?’
I guess what the governor would have preferred was a hard hitting investigation of Albany under the influence of Jay Gould. Whenever Gould and his partners in the 1890’s wanted a bill favoring his railroad, he would jump on a train with their Gladstones stuffed with $100 bills and Erie RR bonds, ink still wet, and hold a rump session of the Legislature in his Albany hotel suite. Ah, those were the days of clean government in the Empire State.
What really impressed me was the chutzpah the governor had in closing down his crime-busting Moreland Commission. Despite the distinguished background of the 16 stalwarts, who the governor had called “some of New York’ sharpest government and legal minds,” he accused them of being “stupid and incompetent,” of not understanding the budget or legislative process, or how state government works, while accusing them of abusing subpoena powers.
I tell you all of this makes my blood boil. Gov. Cuomo’s administration makes Gov. Christie’s smell as clean as the toxic landfill in Newark Bay. With a hypocrite like the governor of Cuomoland, I fear New Jersey must not rest on its laurels if its ever going to catch up with those jerks in Albany.
August 20, 2014