Wanted: Politicos willing to just say no – By George J. Marlin

The following appears in the March 12-18, 2010 issue of the Long Island Business News:

The past four years have been a political nightmare for New Yorkers because Gov. David Paterson and many other members of our political class have been shameless. To enrich themselves or their cronies, the abuse of power by politicians has reached epidemic proportions. There is no shortage of inductees to New York’s gallery of political rogues.

However, most of the scandals we have had to endure easily could have been avoided if only public officials had the audacity to “just say no” to their confreres.

If Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s Chief of Staff Richard Baum and Director of Communications David Dopp had said no to Spitzer’s schemes we would have avoided the Troopergate scandal.

If state Police Superintendent Harry Corbitt and Press Secretary Marissa Shorenstein had said no to requests to tamper with a domestic abuse case involving a senior staffer, Paterson would have dodged allegations of obstruction of justice, perjury and ethics violations.

In my own backyard, Nassau County, if Joseph Belisi and his fellow Republican county legislators had said no to Presiding Officer Peter Schmitt’s 42 percent pay raise, they would have avoided enraging the public and creating doubts in the minds of overtaxed Nassau residents about whether they get the financial pain voters are suffering.

If those same legislators had refused to approve three Nassau OTB board members that Newsday reports “as having strong ties to [Joseph] Mondello,” they would not have to defend the controversial appointment of Joseph Cairo as president of the Off Track Betting agency.

The only profile in courage this year has been Peter Kaufmann, Paterson’s director of communications. When he resigned his post last week he said: “As a former officer in the U.S. Navy, integrity and commitment to public service are values I take seriously.… As recent developments have come to light, I cannot in good conscience continue.” Fine words. It is refreshing to witness a public official who acts on the dictates of his conscience.

Sir Thomas More lost his head 475 years ago because he had the courage to say no to his king. While those who surrendered to Henry VIII’s lust for power have been long forgotten, Thomas More – who was canonized and named the patron saint of statesmen and politicians – is remembered because he proved it is possible for a person to hold a leadership role in government without surrendering his principles. That’s why Jonathan Swift depicted More as “a person of the greatest virtue the kingdom ever produced.”

Reflecting on the political machinations of his time, More observed, “When statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their public duties, they lead their country by a short route to chaos.” How true. Today our state and local governments are scandal ridden and experiencing financial crisis because so many public officials “forsake their private conscience” and refuse to say no to their political masters.

Worse yet, because so many politicos enter public life solely for the power, perks and pensions, when people promote an agenda based on principles these pols become paranoid, seeing conspiracies around every corner. Timorous political bosses find it incredible that there are activists in the public square who are not lobbyists or consultants and are not interested in a patronage job or government contract.

People all over the state who have had it with pols that view government as their private preserve, are joining the Tea Party movement. A recent poll reveals that 87 percent of Tea Party sympathizers intend to vote in the 2010 election. If they follow through in November, there will be a resounding no to politics as usual and many shocked Republican and Democratic hacks will be hitting the unemployment lines.

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