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The depth of corruption in New York politics is unfathomable, so let’s summarize and review the last few months of corruption du jour.
State Assemblywoman Naomi Rivera (D-Bronx) is being investigated by the state attorney general and the Bronx district attorney for looting taxpayer funds to lavish sinecure positions and benefits on her family members and boyfriends. With unemployment in New York at almost 10 percent, Rivera had a “friends and family plan” that guaranteed full employment. A jilted boyfriend is now cooperating with investigators to expose this cesspool of nepotism and malfeasance.
Then there was the indictment of state Sen. Shirley Huntley (D-Jamaica). She made front-page news by being escorted to a precinct in handcuffs. Her alleged scheme was setting up family-run charities to funnel taxpayer dollars to enrich herself and her relatives.
These elected officials bestow thousands of taxpayer dollars on their families and friends while families and friends in our communities are trying to make ends meet in the face of ever-increasing property taxes and unprecedented job loss.
The icing on the cake came most recently when Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) admitted to secretly authorizing at least $103,000 in taxpayer-funded hush money to pay off the female victims of his pal Assemblyman Vito Lopez’s (D-Brooklyn) unsavory sexual advances.
The details of the Lopez-Silver scandal have emerged with the help of an unrelenting investigative press — and without any cooperation from the speaker himself. The state agency he helped create last year to root out corruption, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, was the brainchild of New York’s power trio: Gov. Andrew Cuomo, state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) and Silver.
In its first real test, it failed by taking a clandestine vote and deciding to investigate Lopez but not Silver. Surprised? Of course not.
While civic leaders like myself and others regularly plead for library funds and desperately needed sidewalk and curb repairs, politicians tell us such funds are unavailable. Meanwhile, community tax dollars are readily available to the elected elite to keep unethical and possibly unlawful activities of political friends out of the public eye.
Lopez agreed to relinquish his Brooklyn Democratic leadership post but refused to resign his Assembly seat. Silver believes an apology should be sufficient for acting as Lopez’s bagman, providing the payoff money to silence the victims. Not a single critical word was uttered by Democratic Assembly members about Silver’s compromised ethics and misuse of taxpayer dollars.
With the lone exception of Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), the party’s members remain silent about this violation of the public trust. The fact that Silver is able to emerge from this hush-money scandal without being asked to resign as speaker demonstrates that Albany’s dysfunction is alive and well.
Unless you are willing to risk having your staff and office moved into an Albany broom closet, Silver’s unbridled power to dispense legislative salary perks and office space renders any criticism of him verboten.
As long as elected officials put political gain ahead of ethics and allegiance to the speaker ahead of voters, Albany will remain a den of corruption. In a state where incumbency is the ticket to a lifetime of perks and power, more New York politicians have lost their seats due to criminal conduct than by being voted out of office.
How much more of this unethical behavior must we endure before we say, “Enough is enough?” In less than two months, voters will have the power to answer that question.
Bob Friedrich is a civic leader and president of Glen Oaks Village.
©2012 Community Newspaper Group
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