New York governor David Paterson, beset by charges of witness tampering in the case of a close aide accused of assaulting an ex-girlfriend, has spoken of legalizing ultimate fighting as a revenue raiser to help close the state’s $8 billion plus budget gap. But New Yorkers looking for brawling entertainment need look no further than the Democratic caucus of the state senate where Paterson had been a member for 20 years.
During a debate on whether to expel Queens state senator Hiram Monserrate, who was convicted of a misdemeanor for trying to slash his girlfriend’s throat with a piece of broken glass, State Senator Kevin Parker rose to the occasion. Parker, under indictment for attacking a news photographer, has a personal stake in defending Monserrate. Sent to anger-management counseling for punching a female traffic agent, the solidly built 5′11″ Parker could also be expelled if he’s convicted in the photographer assault case.
Infuriated by comments of the 5′2″ Diane Savino, a state senator from Staten Island, that Monserrate could be immediately expelled with the co-operation of the Republicans, Parker, egged on by his political pals, charged at her screaming that she was a “f—ing bitch” because “the Republicans have no right to dictate what goes on in our house.” When Jeffrey Klein of the Bronx leaped to Savino’s defense, Parker turned on him—and in a version of B-movie dialogue screamed at Klein, “Do you want a piece of me?” “If that’s what it takes to stop this,” came Klein’s retort.
With the possibility that Paterson will be forced out of office, New York could have its third governor in four years. Paterson’s predecessor was Eliot “I’m a f—ing steamroller” Spitzer, a spoiled rich kid anointed by the New Republic as a liberal messiah (before the magazine discovered Barack Obama). Spitzer had a brief rocky stretch as governor after he was caught using the state police to try to gather incriminating evidence against political rival Joe Bruno. But it was his patronage of a brothel that brought down this self-proclaimed supporter of women’s rights.
Scandal is routine in New York State, where soaring rhetoric about government—remember Mario Cuomo’s “New York Idea”—has intersected with the unchecked growth of spending and the absence of competitive elections to produce a continuous crime scene. In recent years the state comptroller Alan Hevesi, a Democrat, and Joe Bruno, the Republican president of the state senate, have been convicted of shakedowns.
Bruno’s defense is that the dapper 80-year-old hadn’t behaved any differently than Shelly Silver, the speaker of the assembly. And Bruno was sort of right. Silver, a trial lawyer, is, thanks to the Albany rules, allowed to engage in honest graft on behalf of his law partners at Weitz and Luxenberg. Albany is a series of tollbooths erected as vehicles for extraction by different members of the government, with some more “legal” than others.
While a dozen state legislators have been indicted or convicted of stealing from the public purse, three have already gone to prison. They include former Bronx state senator Efraín González, who left office after surrendering to the feds on charges that he pumped state funds through a nonprofit he controlled back into his own pocket, to pay for new homes for his wife and mistress as well as a renovation for his mother-in-law’s home and a vacation place in the Dominican Republic. In the Albany political world, nonprofits are synonymous with criminal enterprises.
Queens assemblyman Anthony Seminerio, who was elected on the Democratic, Republican, Independent, and Conservatives lines—third parties are a convenient source of corruption here since candidates are allowed to run under multiple ballot lines—has been convicted of taking half a million dollars in bribes from clients, largely hospitals and doctors, looking to cash in on New York’s Medicaid racket. There’s plenty to skim: The Empire State spends more on Medicaid than California and Texas combined.
A lawmaker captured the mindset of Seminerio and company when he said,
When you sit around and look at what you’ve accomplished and look at all the people you’ve helped get rich, you say, “What the hell. Maybe I’m not doing it right.” If you’re not motivated by good, you wonder why you’re helping other people and not yourself.