The Washington Post

Malcom Smith allegations the latest in history of corrupt politics in New York

Several politicans and elected officials in New York were arrested today on corruption charges, the Associated Press reports:

Democratic state Sen. Malcolm Smith tried to pay off some of New York City’s Republican party bosses to get himself on the ballot as a GOP candidate, federal prosecutors said. . . .

In meetings with a cooperating witness and an undercover FBI agent posing as a wealthy real estate developer, Smith agreed to bribe leaders of Republican Party county committees around New York City in an attempt to run for mayor as a Republican, even though he was a registered Democrat, the criminal complaint said.

Smith maintains his innocence. Whatever the result of his case, the accusation is the latest in a long history of New York politicians to be accused of graft.

In 2009, Joseph Bruno, the former state senator and Republican leader, was convicted on corruption charges. At the time, the Associated Press reported:

The charges against Bruno, 80, are the latest in a line of corruption cases against New York officials over the past two decades. Assembly Speaker Mel Miller was convicted of fraud in 1991 and Sen. Guy Velella went to jail for bribery conspiracy in 2004. Comptroller Alan G. Hevesi -- reelected while under indictment -- was convicted of using state workers to chauffeur his wife in 2006. This year, former health commissioner Antonia Novello, once the U.S. surgeon general, was convicted of using state workers to help her with shopping and other personal business.

Lawrence Norden, senior counsel at New York University Law School’s Brennan Center for Justice, said oversight has been lacking for a long time, particularly by legislators and partly the result of the concentration of power in three offices: the governor, Senate majority leader and Assembly speaker.

A few months earlier, a separate investigation led to dozens of arrests in and around New York City:

A two-year federal probe into a money laundering operation taking place between the New York area and Israel ballooned into one of the biggest bribery and corruption sweeps in New Jersey history, netting three northern New Jersey mayors, two members of the New Jersey Legislature, a raft of local officials, five rabbis, and a Brooklyn man accused of trafficking in human kidneys, U.S. prosecutors said today.

Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) was censured by the House for ethics violations the following year, in 2010:

Those charges pointed to a collection of infractions related to four central elements of the case: that Rangel improperly used his congressional staff and official letterhead to raise seven-figure donations from corporate charities and chief executives for a college wing named in his honor; violated New York City rules by housing his political committees in his rent-controlled apartments in Harlem; did not pay taxes on a villa he owns in the Dominican Republic; and did not properly disclose hundreds of thousands of dollars in personal financial assets.

At The Fix, Rachel Weiner asks why politics in New York are so corrupt. Here’s one answer she received:

“An absence of accountability and competitiveness in our politics,” says SUNY New Paltz Professor Gerald Benjamin. While he’s quick to point out that plenty of other state governments deal with ethics scandals, he says New York’s problems stem from uncompetitive districts. Incumbents become entrenched, amass power and become convinced that they can basically do what they want. . . .

As Halloran himself allegedly said, according to the complaint: “That’s politics, that’s politics, it’s all about how much. Not about whether or will, it’s about how much and that’s our politicians in New York, they’re all like that, all like that. And they get like that because of the drive that the money does for everything else. You can’t do anything without the [expletive] money.”

Max Ehrenfreund writes for Wonkblog and compiles Wonkbook, a daily policy newsletter. You can subscribe here. Before joining The Washington Post, Ehrenfreund wrote for the Washington Monthly and The Sacramento Bee.


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