Rotten: Led by New York, big-government blue states sink deeper into corruption

March 3, 2010

City Journal:

American politics, particularly in the big-government, ever-more-insolvent blue states, are increasingly driven by scandal. We are witnessing a meltdown of the political class in states where the growth of government has, even in weakened economies, offered bountiful opportunities for living well off the public purse. Illinois, New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut have all had to force corrupt governors from office in recent years. But now New York is sprinting ahead in the scandal sweepstakes. If extraordinary front-page editorials in today’s New York Daily News and New York Post calling for the resignation of David Paterson are any measure, the Empire State is headed for its third governor in three years.

That isn’t to say that Illinois, New Jersey, and Connecticut haven’t put up a good fight. A recent string of scandals helped defeat New Jersey governor John Corzine at the polls and forced Connecticut senator Chris Dodd to drop his reelection bid. In Illinois, Barack Obama’s path to the presidency was paved by two scandals against would-be opponents that opened the door to the Senate for him. The governor whom Obama twice supported for office, Rod Blagojevich, has been impeached, in part for trying to sell Obama’s Senate seat, while the man who bought the seat, Roland Burris, has been forced to step aside come November. Alexi Giannoulias—Obama’s buddy, heir to the Broadway Bank, and the Democratic nominee for the Obama-Burris seat—is involved in his own troubles. His family’s once-thriving bank made loans to the mob-associated Michael “Jaws” Giorango, who was convicted of running gambling and prostitution operations, and to Tony Rezko, a fixer with close ties to both Obama and Blagojevich. It seems unfair not to give Scott Lee Cohen, briefly this year’s nominee for Illinois lieutenant governor, a passing mention. Cohen, a pawnbroker who self-financed his runaway victory despite being unable to pay child support to his ex-wife, dropped out of the race after accusations came to light that he had held a knife to the throat of one of his girlfriends, a prostitute.

And then there’s Obama’s hometown of Chicago, where he racked up an enormous majority in the Democratic Party presidential primary that was crucial to his early lead over Hillary Clinton in the popular vote count. A new study from the Better Government Association notes that in the past 36 years, “31 sitting or former Chicago aldermen have been convicted of corruption or other crimes.”

Illinois and New Jersey are probably the only two states where corruption has burrowed so deeply as to involve the public medical schools. In Illinois, until recently, you could buy admission to the state’s medical school. In New Jersey, thanks to the patronage of Senator Robert Menendez of Hudson County—a man elected to the U.S. Senate despite being caught on tape engaging in a shakedown—until last year you could buy the presidency of the University of Medicine and Dentistry. Shocking? Not when you remember why former New Jersey senator Robert “the Torch” Torricelli was forced to drop out of his 2002 campaign for reelection: he had accepted gifts from David Chang, a lobbyist of sorts for nuclear North Korea. New Jersey law clearly states that in the final 51 days of a campaign, a candidate, no matter how badly tarnished, can’t be replaced by a substitute. Never mind: Torricelli’s fellow Democrats on the New Jersey Supreme Court shredded the law and allowed him to be replaced by fellow Democrat Frank Lautenberg, a former U.S. senator who went on to win the election. Lautenberg, whose accomplishments as senator are less than noteworthy, was one of the 60 votes that allowed President Obama to push his health-care proposals.

But for all this, New York doesn’t need to take a backseat to Illinois and New Jersey. In the past few years, Joe Bruno, the Republican temporary president of the New York State Senate, and Democrat Alan Hevesi, the New York State comptroller, have been forced to step down and then convicted of taking bribes. Meanwhile, the inventory of state legislators and New York City Council members caught up in shenanigans is too long to list, though Hiram Monserrate is worthy of special mention. Monserrate, who has enjoyed close ties with the Scientologists, helped paralyze the State Senate for two months this past summer while he switched back and forth between the parties, looking to buy himself the best possible deal. Earlier, he had assaulted a lady friend with a piece of broken glass. When that case finally came before the bar of justice, Monserrate, an embarrassment even in Albany, was rebuked by the courts and expelled from the Senate.

Now, Charlie Rangel—New York State’s ranking member in the U.S. Congress and the chair of the House’s powerful, tax-writing Committee on Ways and Means—has been given a slap on the wrist by his fellow Democrats on the House Ethics Committee for taking lobbyist money for a junket to the Caribbean. Rangel, who is far better at raising other people’s taxes than at paying his own, also recently discovered that his taxable net worth was roughly $1.5 million more than he had previously stated…

Read it all.

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