By Alan S. Chartock | December 23, 2018

I have been regularly accused of being unfair to many members of the legislature when I call them all out for despicable acts of greed and cowardice. To the innocent, I apologize. But lately, I find myself shaking my head at the actions of the boss of the Assembly, let’s call him Boss Heastie. I call him “Boss” because that is just what he is. My kids used to say to each other, “You’re not the boss of me.” But in this case, he is. He appoints the chairs of the various committees and both delivers or takes away other perks of office. The Boss, who used to be the Boss of the Bronx, got to where he is by being extremely sensitive to what his people want. The fact that his people have been gerrymandering the districts and helping to keep themselves in office should not be overlooked. But now, one of the greatest threats to rank and file Democrats has surfaced — ethics reform which would prohibit outside jobs.

This is where the power of the Speaker comes in. You see, some of these characters have been making out like the bandits they are by maintaining outside jobs. If you want something, you certainly can help yourself by going to a lawyer legislator who you think may know the judge or who might look good to a jury. Or, you just might want to buy your insurance from a legislator in the insurance business. Hey, you never know when you will need what the Godfather once called “a service.”

For many of them, this will spell the end of the game. It took a long time to happen but the people have finally wised up. The powerful newspapers have printed editorial after editorial calling this crowd out for its very bad behavior. After years of yelling and screaming and passing ethics legislation that they knew would be rejected by the Republican State Senate, their hypocrisy is now showing.

You may be saying that some of them don’t have outside jobs and that they spend all their time working for their constituents. Granted, that may well be, but they all held up their hands and voted for Boss Heastie who is now doing the heavy lifting to protect this scandalous behavior. So why did vote for him if they had no outside jobs? Because the powerful among them have the ear of the Boss and he is the designated hitter to get out there and protect his people. That way everyone can look innocent and say, “Not me, it’s the Boss.” After all, that’s how you get to be the Boss. You have to do the dirty work.

I have a friend, a noted and brilliant political activist, who told me not that long ago that the Assembly would go along with a ban on outside income because it was the now obliterated Senate Republican majority that had the most to lose. They had powerful members with income coming in from their outside businesses. It turns out that some of the Democrats in the Assembly had their own “legal” bribery schemes going, too. Not only that, all those innocents who were afraid of the Boss and their powerful colleagues did what they were told. Now the Boss tells us that a prohibition against outside income (AKA “legal bribery”) is bad policy. You had better believe that some of these bad actors do not want to go home and tell their spouses that they have to take huge pay cuts. In fact, if these rules come into effect you will see some of these people quitting. Now new clients will have to hire these folks who “used” to be in the Assembly or Senate.

So Boss Heastie is standing up for the old corruption. The people who made him the boss are as silent as the lambs.

Alan Chartock is professor emeritus at the State University of New York, publisher of the Legislative Gazette and president and CEO of the WAMC Northeast Public Radio Network. Readers can email him at [email protected]