The political theater taking place in Albany over the past few days is yet another reminder of the fact that New York State government is essentially broken. The fact is that, for decades, both political parties have used their control of the respective houses of the state legislature — for Republicans, the senate; for Democrats, the assembly — as political patronage machines. Unfortunately, it took a changing of the guard — in this case, the senate — for the public to learn just how bad things have become.
In a February New York Times article entitled, "Uncovering the Perks of Albany's Fallen G.O.P." we learned that the state GOP, under the leadership of the now-exiled Joe Bruno, used the senate coffers in a manner that would make even the most jaded political observer cringe. The senate GOP had its own illegal television studio set aside for the production of cable news shows, all the while keeping Democrats in the dark as to its existence; Bruno's office hoarded more than 800 parking spaces within the capitol district, while doling out a mere 30 to the opposition party; there was even a truck known as the "Bruno-mobile," a custom GMC van that had a conference table and swiveling captain's chairs. None of these perks ever made it onto the opposition's radar screen.
But why stop with the GOP? How many skeletons are in the closet of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver? Many New Yorkers would like to find out. While there are currently no accusations of wrongdoing against the Speaker, there can be no doubt that the Democratic Party here in New York has its share of corrupt individuals. State Senator Pedro Espada, Jr., the recently-defected Democrat and new Senate President — the man who, with no current lieutenant governor, would inherit the governor's mansion if something were to happen to David Paterson — is also coming under fire for alleged corruption. Both the New York Times and New York Daily News have outlined details of $2 million worth of earmarks Espada had asked for, but fortunately didn't receive, that were to go to Bronx charities that have close ties to the senator.
It seems that both parties have plenty to hide — and plenty that would make the electorate steaming mad.
So, what to do about this? Well, the state assembly could certainly use a shakeup, no doubt about it. But then what? Can Humpty Dumpty be put back together again, or is state government hopelessly broken? While we seem to have it a bit better that California, our problems are far more systemic, requiring major surgery to overhaul.
One idea floated recently by Buffalo activist and perennial GOP primary candidate Leonard Roberto would be to scrap the current state constitution. Roberto, and his group Project 2010, would like to hold a constitutional convention next year in order to renovate state government from the ground floor up. While we may not agree entirely with Mr. Roberto's political platform, we believe that this idea is, at the very least, intriguing and worthy of discussion.
And the fact remains that something has to be done, soon, or New York could follow California to the edge of the political abyss.
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