Wanted: Ethics watchdog to keep their mouth shut

Legislative Gazette file photo


Publisher’s Corner

There are those who believe that I have been less than kind in my writings about Carl Heastie, the Speaker of the New York State Assembly. I have been calling him “Boss Heastie” because of his former job as the Boss of the Bronx political machine. He graduated from that job to the top job in the New York State Assembly at which, under the rule established by sociologist Robert Michels known as the “Iron Law of Oligarchy,” he is the head man, otherwise known as the Boss.

You’d have to be pretty stupid to deny him that title. Anyone who has ever spent any time around the New York State Legislature knows how it works and it always amuses me to hear Assembly members talk about themselves as decision makers. That’s all nonsense. Nothing, and I do mean a nothing, happens unless the Boss gives it the okay.

The Boss, however, has responsibilities to the members of his conference. After all, they elect the guy. If he is a benevolent boss, he will try to figure out what his people want in order to keep himself in power. If the voters hold the Legislature in contempt, which they do for some very good reasons, it is the job of the Boss to protect his people from retribution. We know that people think that the legislators are nothing more than bunch of self-serving people. They can’t be defeated because of the amount of money they raise from willing big shots who buy their votes the same way one might buy a cabbage at the grocery store. Some of these characters are more venal than others but generally, the more well heeled someone is, the more likely it is that they will have clout.

Recently, the Times Union of Albany, ran an eye-opening news story about Speaker Heastie’s interviewing and hiring of a top ethics official for the Assembly who would ride herd on that group so that its “lower than a hound’s belly” reputation might be raised. He knows how bad the group looks and, to that end, he has embarked on a charm offensive, moving around the state to talk to citizens as if that was really going to change anyone’s minds. The woman they hired for the job was sequestered in a windowless office and given almost no power to do anything. Once again, it was all for show. Hey, this is nothing new. Andrew Cuomo has the final say on who gets hired for his ethics operations and based on the upcoming trials of some of his best friends, we know how effective that has been. Witness the ill-fated Moreland Commission.

So you really have to wonder what in the world Heastie and Cuomo are doing. To me, it looks as simple as 1,2, 3. Cuomo has $26 million in his campaign accounts and people don’t give you that money if they don’t want something back in return. In fact, Boss Heastie has a lot to say about who in his Democratic Conference get financial support and who gives them money.

One just wonders what would happen if Heastie and his ilk really were to turn things around. What if he actually did install a zero-tolerance official to watch every move that every member of the Legislature made? Instead, he has just done what has always been done. He made a hire but didn’t give his ethics officer the tools and power that she needed. She had the rarest of commodities around the Legislature — integrity.

Now she’s back in Colorado where legislators work the old fashioned way all week round and where their salaries are a small portion of what the New York salons make. Now Boss Heastie will go out and find a schlemiel but one who wants the salary and can keep his or her mouth shut.

And so it goes.