New York State politics have always been interesting

By Alan S. Chartock | November 3, 2022


New York State politics have always been interesting. New York State has New York City and New York City is the center of the world. When I think of the Big Apple, I inevitably return to thinking about big city politics and corruption. I bet that you do, too.

Part of the problem is the connection between politics and money. If you are going to win in the power game, a large part of your success has to do with the accumulation of money. Money is as essential to the game of politics as dice are to the game of Monopoly.

There are lots of ways of ways of using money in the political game. You can wine and dine essential political players. You can inject essential monies for advertising into a campaign, which really can make all the difference between winning and losing. Money is important.

In the case of legislators and other office holders, having the right staff can also make a big difference to political success. As a young man so many years ago, I was indoctrinated into the almost feudal system of working for different politicians. The whole system resembles an octopus with giant tentacles reaching from the center to the outside.  Young people often get their starts through a system known as “internships.” That’s the way that I came up. You become an intern and you work for a politician. If you are good or even semi-good at what you are doing, you may be rewarded with a real job down the road. It puts your “boss” under a sort of obligation. Sometimes your participation in the game makes all the difference. You are building up credits to be used later. It seems that almost all politicians have a certain number of jobs that they control. The more you do, the more likely you will be rewarded.

There are other ways in which jobs can serve as rewards. Sometimes there are family connections and general obligations that play a role in awarding jobs. Sometimes the children or relatives of powerful people get the jobs. If you are looking for campaign contributions, the appointment of key aides by a politician will inevitably be rewarded one way or another in a system that seems to rival the activity on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

Let there be no mistake — hard work on behalf of a politician often pays off, big time. When I was coming up in the system, I paid careful attention to the actor, Bobby Morse, who in the classic “How to Succeed in Business” would put on a show of how hard he was working. In fact, personal favors done for politicians were an integral part of the self-promotional process. Sometimes this involved taking care, on one level or another, of the politician’s kids or spouse on shopping trips. I remember once as a young Ph.D. helping a spouse on a dissertation.

I really don’t think that any of this substantially differs across the board from the non-political sector, human nature being what it is. The political class has its own informal and more formal ways of working. Internships are not unlike apprenticeships back in the old days. The personal relationship between the intern and the boss may well carry on through life.

Anyone who has a child in a college would be extremely wise to encourage them to take advantage any work experience that is available. Many of these situations will go a long way toward carrying a student throughout life. Years ago, I ran a lot of internships in the legislature and to this day, I hear from a lot of former students who got to their present jobs via the internship route.

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]