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Political scandals make even good electeds look bad

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Not long after my family moved from Borough Park, Brooklyn, into our attached bungalow home on 57th Avenue in Elmhurst, I learned Queens was frequently referred to as the “Forgotten Borough.” To most New Yorkers, we were in that place somewhere east of Manhattan and north of Brooklyn and we did not count for much.

The Forgotten Borough, I have learned from the media, has been Staten Island for a number of years. With about 2.2 million inhabitants, Queens, if a city, would be the fourth largest in the nation. We are the county with the most diverse population in the United States, if not the world.

What might we be called today?

Could “Rotten Borough” describe what others — and perhaps we — think about the political scandals which seem to be a trademark today? Queens is innovative and bribery or fraud are features that seem to distinguish too much of our borough.

I will not recount all the current scandals, since by the time you read this more may have accumulated. We live in an age of technological progress, which permits us to record each others’ words instantly, often to the detriment of speakers.

I find it hard enough to keep up with the trials and tribulations of our elected and appointed officials. State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), who has spoken out about these matters, has been so articulate that one of his comments was the Quotation of the Day on Page 2 of The New York Times recently. But it is a sad day when a truthful statement by a local official is cited because it speaks out about corruption in his own legislative body.

One of the saddest aspects of these scandals is that they are harmful to the public perception of public servants. For a quarter of a century my father worked for the city Sanitation Department. When we lived in Elmhurst, he traveled by subway five days a week to his job in Manhattan.

After he died, I went with my mother to do the paperwork on his pension, at the department headquarters downtown. When we were finished, we were asked to see the commissioner, Andrew Mulrain. He had started in public service with my father and wanted to thank us for the job my father had done. He mentioned that my father could have “gone far” in the department but that he had never wanted to be a boss. It was a touching, personal recognition of my father’s public service.

There are millions of public servants in our borough, city, state and nation who work for us every day and they deserve thanks. I have met many of them. To have them smeared with the slime of officials who care for their bank accounts before their constituents is terrible.

A late and longtime friend of ours was a political leader in Flushing. His sharp sense of humor led him to comment, “Never vote for an incumbent. Throw the rascals out!” Joking, of course, especially about his own candidates, but there was a layer of truthful irony in those comments.

Sometimes politics can be funny. If memory serves, some years ago, there was a vacancy in the City Council in a western Queens district. The political leaders could not decide on a candidate. Finally, one of them said, “Why not give it to my kid?” The kid was a local bartender with no government experience. He got the nomination and was elected.

But his short term was not marred by a scandal!

Today, it would seem, one must be careful to talk to public officials. Watch for signs of recording equipment. Dangling wires? Tones going off? Strange beeps and invitations to have a drink in their homes? Beware!

Ah, for the days when we were the Forgotten Borough ....

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