Assemblyman Bill Magnarelli (D-120th)
has been quoted as calling Bruno’s willingness to use his post as
Senate president for personal gain “an aberration.” Magnarelli notes
that he has already proposed tougher ethics requirements for the state
Assembly, failing to note that his one-house bill has no counterpart in
the Senate. As gay couples were reminded once again lately, here in New
York, it takes two houses to tango. At this time of year, especially,
hearing Albany politicians talk reform is like hearing your
brother-in-law vow to start going to the gym.
Bruno is an extreme but not an
aberration. His Gotti-like belief that he was untouchable led him to
discard caution, even to the point of holding business meetings in his
state Capitol offices. The details of the Bruno case are unique,
literally involving horse trading (one of the convictions was for
taking payment for a worthless thoroughbred racer), but for members of
the Assembly and the Senate, holding a second job is in itself a
conflict of interest.
It is long past time for members of the
state Legislature to function as full-time public servants. We pay them
enough, more than any other state save California.
As things stand now, legislators can
hold jobs besides their legislative posts. It’s time to end double
dipping. The people who very sensibly voted to keep us from texting
while driving should understand that if you’re trying to do two things
at the same time, you’re headed for trouble.
The current compensation policy goes back to when making
laws in Albany was a part-time job. Those days are long gone. Members
of the Legislature manage offices the size of small companies; you
can’t do that with one hand on the wheel. Such a radical change in the
ethical framework might just be the change we need to see on that hill
overlooking the Hudson. It also might restore a sense of humility to
those who sometimes need to be reminded that they are called
public servants for a reason.
Senators and Assembly members earn at
least $79,000 annually, and most of them earn a good bit more by virtue
of positions of leadership within their respective houses. Anyone who
can’t figure out how to make it on 80 grand a year can’t be considered
truly representative of the people in a state where most of us get by
on less than half of that. (We’ll throw in a free EZ Pass and a
bunkhouse in Cohoes to ease the pain.)
The statements by Magnarelli and others
contrast so sharply with the public mood that it would be funny if the
stakes were not so high. How can anyone consider Joe Bruno just one bad
apple? Ten legislators, not to mention the governor and the state
comptroller, have left Albany in disgrace since 2005. Enough already.
The fact that most of us yawned our way
through the Bruno trial is evidence enough that the public already
considers Albany too corrupt even to reform itself. Sending good people
into a rotten situation doesn’t make the situation any better. Sen.
David Valesky (D-49th), like his predecessor, Nancy Larraine Hoffmann,
has tried to build a reputation as a reformer attempting to change the
rules. But the rules aren’t the problem: It’s the game itself that
There is no representative body that
governs the state of New York. We go to the polls to decide who we will
send down the Thruway but, once elected, their job becomes to render
loyalty to the reigning potentates in their respective chambers and
patiently await the lulus and member items that will hopefully be
bestowed in return. If you don’t believe me, go ask Mike Bragman what
happens when you mess with the speaker of the Assembly.
Members of the state Legislature sit like the stuffed creatures inside the arcade game in Toy Story,
passively awaiting the moment when the giant claw descends from above
and scoops them up. The function that chews up most of their
time—constituent service—is really an attempt to help their neighbors
navigate a state bureaucracy that should already be serving us equally
but does not.
Did you read anywhere in the coverage of the Bruno trial
the energetic attempts by his colleagues in the Senate to alert the
public to his obvious conflicts of interest? Did you see any mention of
other members of the state Senate calling on federal prosecutors to
look into the ties between Bruno’s private business interests and his
role as the head of that same state Senate?
No, you did not see that, because it
never happened. The leaders are so feared, and their shenanigans so
blatant, that either no one observed them, or no one found them
unseemly. And therein lies the shame of it. Now it’s up to us to decide
what to do about it.
Then of course, there is the matter of
what to do with the stadium that Bruno managed to have named after
himself in Rensselear County. Perhaps change the name from Bruno. . .