Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Look At Corruption In New York And Chicago

It is interesting to hear about all the corruption in Chicago. When I read about Obama’s complete innocence of any wrongdoing it reminds me of the “teenage daughter phenomenon in which a kid walks out of her room for an evening with friends looking like a page from a Vogue magazine photo shoot. When you look into her room after she leaves, the floor is barely visible. If a burglar ever ransacked the place, you wouldn’t know the difference. What is even more amazing is that the kid knows exactly where everything is. And when you clean the place up , the first thing you hear is, “Now I’ll never be able to find anything!!!”

If Obama really doesn’t know jack diddly about corruption in Chicago, then he is a miracle like that of teenage daughters across America and their messy rooms. Maybe he’s telling the truth. I just can’t figure out how.

New York has its own corruption. I divide it into two categories. One type of corruption is a violation of the law that makes life livable. The other is just plain stealing. Sometimes, it’s a mix, where someone isn’t totally honest but he spreads the love around.

There was one guy who liked to make you remember him at election time. He used to donate turkeys to food banks and books to the library with dedication stickers on the inside cover. He was eventually convicted for a crime only an accountant could explain. He allegedly stole e few thousand dollars, though I’d vote for him again in a heartbeat. I think somebody wanted a piece of his action. Pulling the race card would have been totally justified, but he didn’t. He’s what I would call a mensch, a decent human being.

We had a governor named Elliot Spitzer whose “honeymoon” was measured on a stopwatch. Elliot Spitzer started off with a nutty plan to give driver’s licenses to illegal aliens. Then he vowed to “steamroll” anyone who got in his way. He defunded one guy’s health programs in his district because he stood up to him. How did Spitzer get elected? He ran on a “clean government” program and ran some of the sappiest commercials in the history of political advertising.

As attorney general, he had a reputation for being a pit bull. He liked showy arrests, where you go into a guy’s office and lead him out in handcuffs. The problem is that some of the people he so theatrically shamed were found innocent. Where do they go to get their reputations back.

What really disgusted me was when Spitzer went after a controller named Alan Hevesi. What was Hevesi’s crime? His wife was critically ill and needed to get to and from doctor’s appointments. Hevesi had his chauffeur drive her around on the taxpayer’s nickel. “Honest Elliot” piously and indignantly drove Hevesi from office, even after Hevesi reimbursed the “improper” use of state money. The electorate, the greatest jury in the land, felt convinced that the allegations were sufficiently trivial to reelect Hevesi despite the improprieties.

When Elliot Spitzer himself was busted for going to Washington DC to hang out with hookers, there were plenty of people who would have looked the other way. Some were even relieved that we had a heterosexual sex scandal instead of a gay one like New Jersey.

Unfortunately for Spitzer, people decided to be as harsh and unforgiving with him as he was with his enemies. So now we have a governor, David Patterson, who is facing some of the toughest financial problems in state history.

What I am most grateful to Governor Patterson for is his signing into law a piece of landmark legislation designed to protect New Yorkers against lawsuits designed to chill free speech, the “libel tourism law”. He is not a charismatic governor. He is not a passionate ideologue of any stripe. He is just a guy who does what has to be done. I will most probably vote for him if given the chance.

What is going on in Chicago puzzles me. I think they should let Blagojovitch, accused of trying to sell the Illinois Senate seat, plead guilty on charges relating to that awful hairpiece he’s got. That would cap his sentence at about two years. In truth, he probably didn’t want to split his money with the right people.

With a vacant Senate seat in New York, I don’t even want to know what kind of horse trading is going on behind closed doors. I’ll bet there is just as much sleaze behind closed doors here in New York, raising the question of whether open seats should be appointed or elected.

But think about some of the stuff we let fly. We appoint ambassadors to foreign countries based on their contributions to the sitting President’s campaign. It’s totally legal, and it’s totally stupid. What if if we go to war with some country with a chump ambassador that bought his post. He could make things a lot worse.

Joe Kennedy was just such an ambassador. He was serving in Great Britain in 1940 when it was under attack from Germany. He praised Germany to the heavens, when its planes were in London’s skies. A friend of mine’s mother went to him for a visa. He told her, “America is a very nice country. It is very nice to Jews. So now we have too many Jews. I can’t help you.” He ended up offending so many people that Roosevelt had to get him out of London. He was a disgrace and an embarrassment. He wasn’t all bad. They say that deep down he was a nice guy.

We used to have a system in New York where the private garbage companies divided up the city into territories with no bidding. There were all kinds of extra fees. I remember a store in my neighborhood that closed for vacation and didn’t want to pay the carting service while they were gone. The next morning, they had dead, rotten fish dumped in front of their store that you could smell two blocks away. Rudolf Giuliani put an end to that and a lot of corruption that blighted the lives of New Yorkers on a daily basis. Giuliani was the kind of guy who saw a possibility of a better life for New Yorkers and went for it.

The problem is that people said Giuliani was insensitive, arrogant and controlling. That’s so terrible. I wish we had more arrogant, insensitive and controlling people around now. It would do us good.

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