Riverdale Press: NY Should End Pay for Play [Editorial]

Pay for play

The Riverdale Press

April 10, 2013

How much longer will we keep electing people with no values and expecting them to represent ours?

The crisis we currently face — as state and city legislators find themselves ensnared in a tangled web of corruption that includes Bronx Assemblyman Eric Stevenson taking cold, hard cash to introduce legislation and Bronx GOP Chair Jay Savino taking bribes from Malcolm Smith, a one-time Democratic Majority Leader who hoped to run for mayor as a (ahem) Republican  — is a moral one.

We are in a void.

It’s not about Democrats, Republicans, or even money. At the heart of it all is that so many of our politicians simply do not see their jobs as representing constituents and instead view constituents as a platform from which they can elevate themselves.

That is why many of our elected officials are so comfortable switching parties to get elected and why those already in are all too happy to change party affiliations to maximize power.

Most recently, Riverdale’s own state Sen. Jeff Klein formed the Independent Democratic Conference. This effectively stole power from the same state Democratic Party whose ticket he ran on. He had no compunctions about wooing Malcolm Smith into his fold — though the man already had amassed a questionable history.

This kind of amorality is not by any stretch unique — and it’s this same “me” mentality that causes politicians to try to buy office.

And the pay for play culture that periodically crosses over into crime is far from surprising. Most legislators who take bribes do so in the form of campaign contributions and call it a day.

“We like to think of illegal corruption,” R.J. Bradley-Ortiz, a community organizer with Citizen Action of New York, told The Buffalo News. “But legal corruption exists. Too often, things happen that appall people, but they’re perfectly legal.”

This as an argument for strengthening campaign finance rules, he said.

Others have used recent scandals to call for the elimination of City Council member items. These are what Queens Councilmember Dan Halloran dangled in front those who he attempted to bribe on behalf of Mr. Smith.

Reformers are touting public financing of campaigns to encourage the participation of more candidates, giving us more choices on Election Day.

These are all legitimate policy initiatives that will help dirty politicians get away with less and minimize money’s hold over politics. But no amount of rule making will dissuade politicians bent on placing their advancement over ours.

Amoral politicians are enabled by an apathetic electorate lulled into allowing others to decide whom to represent them — and party leaders are happy to do it, some of them even happy to take cash for the pleasure.

By the time egregious betrayers of the public trust are thrown out, it’s already too late. The damage has been done. Another scandal-scarred politician becomes a headline and another reason — or excuse — to become disillusioned with democracy and not to participate.

Even fewer people will vote next time.

Yes, the recent scandals should spur the governor to act definitively on campaign finance reform. But it should also be a lesson to us, the voters.

If we don’t get involved on a local level, if we allow county bosses to dictate who gets onto the ballot, corrupt assemblymen become corrupt mayors, governors and presidents. The Malcolm Smiths of today are the Rob Blagojevichs of tomorrow and the Nixons of a decade on.

If we allow people with no values to win elections time after time can we really say that we uphold the values of democracy?

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