New York’s public ethic: Anything goes – By George J. Marlin
The following appears in the May 18-24, 2012 issue of the Long Island Business News:
Some days I’m sorry I get out of bed. That’s how I felt on the first Saturday in May after reading a slew of government corruption stories in the morning papers. Here’s the roundup:
- Former state Sen. Hiram Monserrate, who is on probation for assaulting his girlfriend, was sentenced to two years in jail after pleading guilty to using $100,000 of taxpayer dollars to fund one of his campaigns for public office.
- Former state Sen. Pedro Espada this week was convicted of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Soundview Health Care Network.
- In Brooklyn, three public administrators were charged with stealing $2.6 million. The commissioner of the Department of Public Administration said in a statement, “The investigation exposed an audacious and calculated scheme to steal money from the dead.”
- Federal prosecutors announced they expect to indict 10 more Long Island Rail Road retirees for disability fraud. The October 2011 indictment of 11 former LIRR employees appears to have been only the tip of the iceberg. When The New York Times broke the billion-dollar bogus benefits story three years ago, it reported that “virtually every career employee of the rail road was applying and receiving disability payments giving the Long Island Rail Road a disability rate three to four times that of the average rail road.”
Let’s not forget the recent indictments of three Nassau County commanders, the Nassau County Police Department’s illicit sex inquiry, former state Sen. Carl Kruger’s sentencing to seven years in prison for bribery and honest services fraud, former state Sen. Joe Bruno’s bribery indictment and the Suffolk County grand jury report claiming former County Executive Steve Levy manipulated the Ethics Commission and used it “as a political sword to attack enemies of county officials.”
All in all, not a good spring season for taxpayers.
Historically, New York has had its share of political scandals. In the post-Civil War era, there was Boss William Tweed, (1823-1878), who made government work almost entirely for himself and a few cronies. And then there was Tammany Hall’s George Washington Plunkett, (1842-1924), who is remembered for describing the political corruption of the Roaring Twenties as honest graft. “I seen my opportunities,” he said, “and I took em.” But for the most part, these rogues were small-time crooks who stole for the sake of stealing, hoping not to get caught.
In our times, however, corruption appears to be pervasive at all levels of government for different reasons. Some people in government live under the delusion that they “sacrifice” so much for the public that they are, therefore, entitled to special perks and privileges. (The Government Services Administration Las Vegas scandal comes to mind.)
Others are narcissists who believe they are superior to the rest of society and, therefore, are not bound by the rules that govern the masses.
Then there are those who are infected by what New York Times columnist Ross Douthat calls in his new book, “Bad Religion,” pseudo-faiths that encourage one’s worst impulses instead of serving as a rebuke to avarice. “As a result,” Douthat persuasively argues, “pride becomes ‘healthy self-esteem.’ Vanity becomes ‘self-improvement,’ adultery becomes ‘following your heart,’ greed and gluttony become ‘living the American Dream.’”
The current government corruption crisis is, in my judgment, a spiritual and cultural one. Hence, it will take more than new laws to change hearts and minds. To restore civic virtue, religious and educational leaders will have to take center stage and make a concerted effort to instill in citizens of every age the canon first articulated by New York Governor Grover Cleveland that “public office is a public trust,” not a public trough for self-enrichment and self-aggrandizement.Explore posts in the same categories: Articles/Essays/Op-Ed