The Clean State of New York Joins the Race

I was reading in the papers the other day the governor of New York is shutting down the Moreland Commission, a body designed to investigate possible criminal activity by state employees who had strayed from the path of virtue and integrity. Before it’s abrupt shutdown, the Commission had begun rooting out corruption and moral depravity in the Legislature, possibly not the wisest political choice. The Commission files reportedly were already bulging with incriminating evidence in only nine months of work when the lights went out.

Gov. Cuomo had people scratching their heads at his audacity in pushing for the creation of such a crime-busting unit as the Moreland, his state having an unblemished reputation for being as honest as the day is long, at least before 1776.

Amongst the revelations already reported is that the panel inquiries discovered cases of lawmakers profiting improperly from their public offices, conflicts of interest, and other ethics issues.

What is the public service business come to when an Assembly Speaker, like Sheldon Silver, can’t earn $350,000 to $450,000 a year while moonlighting for a distinguished personal injury-chasing shop (Weitz & Luxenberg)? Witch-hunts like this are liable to limit the pool of citizens who will step forward to run the machinery of government if you can’t make it worthwhile.

By the time Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for Southern District of New York, takes over the Moreland Commission caseload involving rampant corrosive corruption, a chore in progress, New York may be in position to beat out the state of New Jersey for title of most honesty-challenged state in the Metropolitan Area.

What an outrage!

Traditionally, New Jersey always has been first in criminality by public officials. There were many pretenders to the crown before New York began encroaching on our laurels. Every day, a new corruption case seems to rear its head nationally. A speaker of the House mysteriously resigns in Rhode Island. Virginia. Nevada. North Carolina, California. Connecticut. South Carolina. Not to mention those perennials, Illinois and Louisiana. The way things are going no state in the Union will be unblemished by civic corruption. But none can hold a Scale of Justice to New Jersey.

The so-called Garden State — where you can’t even get Jersey tomatoes that taste like Jersey tomatoes any more — was first in the number of cloverleafs on highways; malls per capita; the amount of heavy metals in the drinking water (we have enough to make atom bombs), and, most importantly, the number of public officials arrested since 2001 (130 by 2009, the year I stopped counting).

If that doesn’t make us first in corruption, there is no justice.

Who will ever forget July 23, 2009, a day that will live in the annals of civic criminality. I had just stepped off the plane from London at Newark Liberty International when a historic moment was breaking on the TV news. It hit me like a plate of lasagna.

Doing the perp walk was the new reform mayor of Hoboken (in office all of 13 days). Also the mayors of Secaucus and Ridgefield. Plus the deputy mayor of Jersey City, a couple of Assemblymen, and other public servants. Plus five rabbis (not just the usual power brokers, but the heads of synagogues in Deal and Brooklyn). 44 nabbed.

I don’t mean to imply just on the usual bribery, extortion, and real estate development deal charges. It involved rabbis, not only money laundering in charities, but the selling of kidneys and fake Gucci bags. Not revealed at the time was what the kidneys and Guccis had to do with it. Did they need the Guccis to deliver the kidneys to Israel?

The deputy mayor of Jersey City in cuffs. Payoffs in diners in Ridgefield Park. It was all so New Jersey, foreigners will say.

Of course, they were all guilty until proven innocent, according to cable TV news canons of jurisprudence. Whichever way the 44 cases went, it was all very entertaining, especially to scholars of municipal government like myself.

This was history, a true “New Jersey Moment,” not even Lincoln Steffens could have written. July 23 should be an official state holiday, lest we forget those who have fallen off the path of righteousness and duty.

Eat your heart out Rhode Island, Vegas, N’yawlins, I remember thinking at the time. Take THAT Boston and Chicago with your supposed national lock on seedy political infrastructure. All you erstwhile illegitimate contenders with your dirty hands, you’re all left in the dust.

There are two theories of government being debated in New Jersey and other centers of civic improvement. One is that candidates should be required to be arrested before they run for office not after, as in the case of The Jersey Three and a Half.

The other theory being bandied about in municipal reform circles, one which I subscribe to, is that nobody should be allowed to run for office unless they have been indicted, served time, or are coming out of a half-way house.

By the time Preet gets through digesting the fruits of the Moreland Commission digging — said to be food for thought, if not indigestion — New York may be a legitimate contender.

What a shame that Jay Leno is no longer around to call attention to New Jersey’s achievements in this field of iniquity, while he was kicking the crap out of New Jersey every single night making fun of the Garden State as the garden of evil. Letterman, Fallon, Kimmel or even Colbert are up to the task.

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Marvin Kitman
April 18, 2014

Marvin Kitman is the author of “The Making of the Preƒident 1789.” “George Washington’s Expense Account” by Gen. George Washington and Marvin Kitman PFC (Ret.) was the best-selling expense account in publishing history.