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Saturday, May 08, 2010

Lessons Not Learned

Seems somehow appropriate that Senators John Sampson and Malcolm Smith finally agreed to submit to the Inspector General's investigation of the selection of AEG to operate the Aqueduct racino on the same day that former Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno was sentenced to two years in prison for depriving the public of his honest services. As you may recall, the trial served as a backdrop for the impasse over the Big A selection, and there was talk here on this site that, given the potentially dire consequences looming for Bruno, it was just unimaginable that the Senate Democratic leadership would do anything with even a hint of appearance of a conflict of interest.

However, incredibly, not only was there a hint on conflict, they might as well have trumpeted it on the front page of the NY Post. From the very first days of AEG's emergence as a bidder right around this time last year, its connections to Malcolm Smith were clear and well-publicized. To me, the reports that the Senate leadership were steadfastly insisting upon this group, which was clearly not the most qualified and experienced for the job, despite the obvious influence, was nothing less than surreal. Even Bruno had some sense of when the line could not be crossed; I don't recall him ever advocating for Empire Racing despite its involvement with Abbruzzese.

So it's little wonder that the probe was reported by the Daily News to be focusing heavily on the state Senate, which is where the attention should have been all along had the governor not blundered his way into the headlines.

And of course, the beat goes on in the state capitol, where Senator Smith faces additional legal problems, and where the legal and ethical cloud surrounding present Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada is of the magnitude of Eyjafjallajokull.

As for Bruno, I find myself deriving little joy from the thought of him going to jail. Sure, no question that he was a crook who used his position to enrich himself; and, in fact, I think he beat more raps in the case than he probably should have. But I also believe that he was merely a product of the culture in Albany, and that he truly believed what he was saying in his 40 minute speech in the court before his sentencing, when he proclaimed: "In my heart, and in my mind, I did nothing wrong.” Besides, the prior White House administration raised the bar for me when it comes to defining pure evil in politicians; at least Bruno didn't manufacture reasons to start a war. (And do you think we'd be in this situation with NYRA and OTB if he was still one of the three men in a room?)

Whether he actually enters the federal prison system, where out of a total population of 210,159, only 47 are Mr. Bruno’s age or older [NYT] will be determined when the Supreme Court issues its rulings this summer on the constitutionality of the honest services law under which he was prosecuted. The accounts I've read of the arguments in the three cases involved seem to indicate skepticism on the part of the justices. Considering that this court recently opened the floodgates to corporate influence in politics, I guess it would be little surprise if it now takes away a key weapon that prosecutors use to fight and punish the kind of corruption that is bound to proliferate. So it remains to be seen whether or not we see Bruno working the crowds at Saratoga in summers to come.

- Moving further off topic: I've mentioned the website a couple of times here, recommending it as the best place to check out new music (you could stream any song in its entirety once) and to purchase albums in MP3 form significantly cheaper than on ITunes (usually $7.49 vs $9.99). I also noted warily that Apple had purchased the site. And now the other shoe has dropped with a thud; Apple is shuttering the site on May 31. Though there's some speculation that Apple will utilize Lala's streaming technology in a so-called "cloud-based" where one could store a music library to access via any computer device as you could do on Lala, some reports say that's far off. So, this sucks. And Apple isn't doing much these days to endear itself to anyone.

Fortunately, there are still cheaper alternatives to purchasing music on ITunes, such as the EMusic subscription service, where you can buy songs for as little as 40 cents (though the subscription model definitely has its own drawbacks). And websites such as are streaming new albums in their entirety, at least prior to their release.

Anyway, the beat goes on in the world of indie rock with new releases this past week from the Canadian collectives Broken Social Scene and New Pornographers, and from Brooklyn's The National next week. And we have the 28th album from the venerable The Fall, whose craggy leader Mark E. Smith looks to be aging like fine wine and Calvin Borel.



Anonymous said...

Alan, a fairly balanced assessment of Joe Bruno's case. I will add that I surely hope and pray that he prevails on appeal, either with SCOTUS or Second Circuit.

Joe Bruno was a doer and achieved so much more good for NY State than Spitzer ever did. Among many other aschievements over many years, he managed to get the AMD/Global deal done for Saratoga County, a major job creator and economic boost which couldn't have come at a better time.

What did Spitzer ever do for NY State except blackmail legitimate players in business and finance, and set-up Joe Bruno for a phony rap? And then get nailed with a hooker in Washington. Yes, he did a lot of good for NY State.

And you are correct in saying that had Joe Bruno still been Sen Maj Leader, the VLT/NYRA mess would have been straightened out long before now. Joe knew how to get things done and was and is a true friend of NY racing.

Anonymous said...

White collar criminals, and especially politicians, need to do serious jail time when violating the public trust.

This is the only way to get this nation straightened out, as long as they get slaps on the wrist they will continue to take advantage of their power.

Bruno, once his legal appeals are exhausted of course, needs to do his time.

As should anyone of the other Albany legislatures all of whom should be investigated en masse, they all push the envelope and those that cross the line need to be indicted and more importantly removed from office.

This nation can not continue to criticize other nations for their corrupt goverments when our own, national and local, leave a lot to be desired.