WHAT HAPPENS IN ALBANY STAYS IN ALBANY
So anyway, the guy I call “Tough Guy Andrew” is fighting for his political life. His enemies list grows and grows. At the very top of the list are members of the state legislature, of both parties, who are in a serious get-even mode. It seems that they are very concerned about Andrew Cuomo’s behavior. Yeah, that’s a good one. Sort of like Whitey Bolger being named to head his state’s ethics committee. No matter what you think of Andrew and his predicament, it is interesting that the legislature seems to be intent on getting its pound of flesh, to which I can only say, “Be careful what you wish for.”
The first thing you have to know is that people hate the legislature. Most people think that the legislature stinks like old fish. Yes, it’s true that many of them might like their individual legislator, but it is as American as apple pie to hate the state Assembly and Senate, for good reason. I used to ask my classes what their parents said about the legislators and almost always, the response was, “They’re all a bunch of crooks.”
That has been the case for a long, long time. Don’t get me wrong — there are some wonderful people in the legislature, but the institutions are too often morally corrupt. I’m not talking about “go-to-jail” corrupt, although some should consider the idea. Nope, I’m talking about the idea of democratic, representative (as in re-presentative) government which has been corrupted and people know it. They aren’t stupid. Give the folks at home a choice of who they have more respect for, the legislature or the governor, and while such polls may show some temporary changes, most folks see the two houses as a sort of bordello in which the well-heeled call the shots and the folks in the barrel get screwed. We all know about lobbyists, the hand maidens of the folks who really call the shots.
There are legislators whom I admire; people like the incredibly decent, talented, principled Liz (The Good One) Krueger. But people do resent the fact that legislators are well paid and given all kinds of pay and perks while everyone else is buried in the muck and mire. No matter what kinds of crap they are handed by their legislators, people know that those at the top of the food chain do what they are told by the Assembly Speaker, Carl Heastie, and the Senate Majority Leader, Andrea Stewart-Cousins. Oh, sure, they will argue that they all meet in conferences and they give their leaders instructions. Right, and I have a bridge that goes to Brooklyn that I can let you have cheap. We know that when the governor negotiates with these leaders, they have the power to bargain and to basically make up their minds on the spot.
Naturally, the distress that our state legislators are showing about Andrew Cuomo’s ethical standards, including matters of sexual impropriety, should be seen as proving that they are a bunch of Dudley Do-rights. Hey, have you ever heard of the Bear Mountain Compact, demanding what happens in Albany stays in Albany? That’s a good one, alright. As I said, there are some very ethical and decent people in Albany. Nevertheless, we know that Tough Guy Andrew has leaned very hard on the legislature, so hard that when given the chance to get even, they do so with a vengeance.
There is a movement positing that the only way out of the perennial misbehavior is term limits. Most political scientists think that is a bad idea. It ain’t great but we have a moribund, self-serving system now that won’t go away on its own. The New York City Council has such a system and it is working well. The way we are doing it now, in a word, stinks.
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].