The NYC mayoral race, to be decided in November of this year, has actually been underway for some time now, with candidates from both parties having participated in an already seemingly endless series of debates and forums. We haven't seen nor heard from State Senator Malcolm Smith in those events, despite rumblings over the last year about his interest in running as a Republican. And we now perhaps we know why. He apparently has been otherwise occupied. Smith was arrested on Tuesday for allegedly trying to bribe his way onto the ballot. Federal prosecutor Preet Bharara, referring to the plethora of corruption cases involving New York State politicians (of both parties, but predominately Democrats so it seems), compared what he referred to as “the public corruption crisis in New York” to the film “Groundhog Day.”
The complaint described envelopes of cash trading hands in Manhattan hotel rooms and restaurants, payments of thousands of dollars to persuade Republican leaders in New York to put Senator Smith, from Queens, on the Republican ballot in November. The bribes were to be paid to obtain certificates authorizing him to run for mayor as a Republican even though he was a registered Democrat. [New York Times]Malcolm Smith's name may be familiar to those who followed the saga of the selection process for the operator of the Aqueduct racino. He was one of the main subjects of the scathing report by the Inspector General which described how he and Senator John Sampson, amongst others, allegedly tried to steer the selection to AEG. [Here's my post on the report for those who need a refresher.] That scheme was also investigated by the feds, and though no indictments have (yet) resulted, Matt Hegarty pointed out on Twitter that "It's probable the AEG investigation yielded enough info for feds to subpoena/go undercover." Oh, and that they did; the complaint against Smith and his alleged (have to keep using that word) co-conspirators and bribees is chock full of wiretaps and features an FBI agent posing as a wealthy real estate investor (and I can hear the entrapment defense strategy now).
Later, as an undercover FBI agent allegedly delivered a $25,000 cash bribe to Queens GOP Vice Chairman Vince Tabone:
During the conversation, TABONE frisked the UC in an apparent effort to make sure that the UC was not recording their conversation. The UC was, in fact, recording the conversation. [Capitol Confidential]These guys couldn't even get their frisking right. And remember, AEG is hardly the only other time that Smith's name has popped up in reports of investigations. So, should these latest allegations prove to be true, the breadth of the arrogance and stupidity of this man to be involved in such a scheme given the scrutiny he was already under would be stupefying, even for Albany.
Then we have Senator Jeff Klein, the leader of the Independent Democratic Conference, who accepted Smith into his five-member conference prior to this year's legislative session, blasting him and stripping him of committee assignments and leadership post. Smith's defection to the IDC was nothing but a self-serving ploy for both; Smith got some committee leadership posts and a bigger budget for his staff, and Klein got an African-American to counter criticism over his aligning with the all-white GOP. Considering that Klein's original rationale for forming the IDC was his discontent with the Democratic leadership, and that Smith was part of that leadership, the hypocrisy was quite plain for all to see.
"These are very serious allegations that, if true, constitute a clear betrayal of the public trust," Klein said. Well, betraying the public trust is something that Klein is well-versed in. We had elections last November as you may recall; and the public electorate decisively overturned the Republican Senate majority, electing 33 Democrats (including one in a new district created and gerrymandered by the GOP for the sole purpose of trying to preserve their majority) and 30 Republicans to serve them in the state Senate. (Enough to maintain a majority even with the immediate defection of one Democrat to the GOP caucus.)
However, in the recently concluded closed-door budget negotiations, the leader of the Democratic caucus was not even represented! Why? Because Klein aligned his conference with the Republicans, claiming to create a coalition that would create a fairer and more efficient Senate. But it seems obvious that Klein is interested in nothing else than fulfilling his own political ambitions to eventually ascend to Majority Leader. He has nothing in common politically with the GOP other than the desire to be in a position of power. And as a result, whereas the electorate has spoken loud and clear about what kind of agenda it wants to see, we have progressive initiatives that are watered down or stalled in political horse trading as a result of the IDC allowing the minority party to retain a measure of control. (And, by the way, Governor Cuomo, the presumptive leader of the Democratic Party in New York State, was quite content to sit back and let this happen.)
And, as far as the Republican leader Dean Skelos goes, he smiles and nods as the governor announces the latest budget as if he and his party remain a key player. But they're really not; Skelos skirts along, getting whatever small concessions he can get while not daring to piss off Klein so that he'll take his members back to the Democrats next year if and when the party gives in and makes him their Majority Leader, as I believe they will. However much I've disagreed with Skelos' politics in the past, he gave at least the appearance of sticking to conservative principles. Now, he's sold out his own party in a pathetic attempt to maintain what's left of his own position of power. Here's an excerpt from a blog post from a gentleman who's squarely on the opposite side of the political spectrum as yours truly; but we can at least agree on this:
Since becoming a Senate leader in 2008, Dean Skelos has demonstrated he is not a Conservative. For that matter, he’s not a Republican or a Democrat. He is, in fact, a member in good standing of Albany’s dominant party. He’s an incumbocrat, who will do whatever it takes to hold onto power and perks.- With perhaps coincidental timing, the Post published an editorial on Tuesday blasting the Senate Democrats for not following through on Senator John Sampson's pledge to investigate the AEG shenanigans (which basically meant investigating himself).
To keep his fancy office and government automobile and driver, Skelos has pandered to the governor and left-wing special interests. To get a few crumbs from Cuomo’s table, he has sold out his party and his Senate conference.
If Republicans and Conservatives want to stand up for their principles, they should tell Skelos it is time for him to call it quits and give him a one-way ticket to Florida. [Street Corner Conservative]
But more than two years later, no report has appeared; in fact, no one in top Senate circles will even confirm that an investigation was ever begun. [NY Post]