Ain’t Albany fun?

New York Assembly Chamber


Stupid, stupid, stupid.  It’s really hard to believe how dumb our state legislators can be. They’ve just seen their two supreme leaders towed to the hoosegow. The people are clamoring for ethics reform.  U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara correctly says that by putting up with ethical misbehavior, we are “enablers.” Yet, they don’t make the changes that are necessary.

Meanwhile, the rank-and-file legislators all seem to be saying, “We need to tighten things up so that the public doesn’t think all we care about is how to use our official positions to enrich ourselves.” Of course, that’s what they say for public consumption. At the same time, they proceed to hoodwink the public by refusing to make meaningful reforms. Their problem is that they can’t suggest that the old unethical and immoral ways are correct so that they need someone to do their dirty work for them. That’s where the new Speaker, Carl Heastie, comes in. The first question we have to ask is who the new guy is. In other words, is he any different from the last guy who seems to be on his way to jail?

Instead of electing a true reformer to lead them, they go and find a “same old, same old” guy to front for them.  So what were his qualifications in the great hierarchy of contemporary politics? He was the Democratic leader, otherwise known as the Boss of the Bronx, so it was only natural that they made him the Boss of the Assembly. Just a short while ago came the news that the Boss decided he would suggest a plan where very little in the ethics department has changed.

Apparently the major question now is how much outside income a legislator can make to augment their salary. We all know the game. Because someone is a legislator with some real power, and because people want something from them, why not take your law, real estate or “consultant” business to them?” The answer is that this kind of thing has been happening forever.

Boss Heastie’s Assembly, as reported in the New York Times, has recommended the latest Andrew Cuomo initiative, which would severely limit how much “outside” money they could earn above their $79,000 annual salary in much the same way members of Congress are limited. (Cuomo’s plan would permit fifteen percent of their salary or an additional $11,925.) Apparently this has scared the daylights out of our legislators so the Boss is taking the heat and starting to bargain publically. His people let it out that they want, for some inexplicable reason, to limit their outside income to forty percent of a Supreme Court Justice’s salary or an additional $69,600 dollars. These people really must think that the voters are stupid. The problem, of course, is that if I ask so many of my students what their parents think of legislators they always say, “They’re all a bunch of crooks.” In other words it is taken for granted that legislators are self-serving, unethical and immoral, so why fight it?

To sugar coat the whole thing, the Assembly suggests that some things which are outrageous be codified. It all boils down to the fact that the most important thing is for these folks to keep their money. They will not be allowed to put their names on promotional material for their law firms and they have to “be reasonable” in what their compensation in outside business dealing might be. Thanks a lot for that. Talk about a barn door being wide enough to drive a team of horses through.

Boss Heastie says that this series of “reforms” would work to “…rebuild the public’s faith in their representatives.” Now there’s a good one. As for the governor who has taken much incoming for his vacillation on ethics, this puts him in a good light if he means it and will fight for it. We have learned that he doesn’t always mean what he says.

Ain’t Albany fun?