Albany’s behavior reaches new lows – By George J. Marlin

The following appears in the November 5-11 issue of the Long Island Business News:

Twelve days before the election, New York Inspector General Joseph Fisch shocked the political establishment by releasing a no-holds-barred report on the corrupt bidding process that awarded the Aqueduct video slot contract to a blatantly unqualified consortium, Aqueduct Entertainment Group.

Fisch, a former judge and prosecutor, found that the selection of AEG by Gov. David Paterson, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate President Malcolm Smith “created a politically dominated process antithetical to the public interest and contrary to acceptable procurement practices.”

The 308-page Fisch report stated that heavy lobbying and major contributions to the Democratic State Senate Campaign Committee and individual Democratic senators had cast “a taint on the motives behind the Senate leadership’s support of AEG.”

The report alleges that Senate Democratic Leader John Sampson impeded the IG’s investigation, gave evasive and misleading testimony and leaked confidential information during the selection process to AEG’s lobbyist. And, AEG complied with Sampson’s request to hire developer Don Cogville.

The probe also revealed:

  • Paterson ignored expert advice that AEG was not qualified;
  • Sen. Smith pushed for AEG despite ties to its investors;
  • Sen. Eric Adams advocated for AEG despite knowledge of the consortium’s shortcomings;
  • Senate Secretary Angelo Aponte improperly served as a “conduit of information” to AEG;
  • Democratic consultant Hank Sheinkopf and Paterson’s former top aide David Johnson pleaded the Fifth Amendment, stating their rights against self-incrimination;
  • Former state Sen. Carl Andrews, now a lobbyist, procured inside information and memos concerning Aqueduct bids.

Reviewing the scope of the scandal which included leaks, self-dealing and favoritism to fix the outcome of the bidding process, Fisch said, “As one who has devoted an entire career spanning over half a century to public service, and as a taxpayer and resident of New York, I am outraged and profoundly saddened by the conduct throughout this process by the people who hold a responsibility to service the public, a responsibility that they betrayed.”

Albany potentates have reached these corrupt lows because of a warped definition of ethics. For them ethics is devoid of moral absolutes, that is, norms of morality by which one distinguishes right from wrong. They can rationalize illicit behavior because they have adopted a utilitarian, amoral system based on the so-called “pleasure principle” which holds that achieving what is best for oneself is all that matters.

With no appeal to absolute values, there are no “oughts” and as a consequence, many dominant politicians believe there are no limitations on their political behavior. Such people implement whatever has political utility. This leads to situational ethics – the ends justifying the means.

This “philosophy of expediency” ethical approach permits pols to exempt themselves from some rules of conduct. Because they perceive themselves as entitled nobility, they do not break laws or commit offenses, they only make occasional mistakes. Hence, no one should have been surprised by Sampson’s remorseless reaction to Fisch’s charges: “Mistakes were made at various levels of government, and we must collectively learn a lesson.” This remark proves that Sampson is a narcissist incapable of grasping they were more than mistakes, there was the breach of trust his constituents bestowed on him and possibly a breach of state law he swore to uphold. IG Fisch correctly concluded that Sampson and his political cronies based their award on a “militant indifference to the public good.”

The Fisch report confirms the cynical approach to governing that dominates Albany. One can only hope it serves as the catalyst that enables Governor-elect Cuomo to bring to a close the era of “anything goes.”

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