Wednesday, April 03, 2013

From the frying pan into the fire

By Carl

I guess Malcolm Smith (nominal D-NY) can be forgiven. After all, he watched as Michael Bloomberg purchased the mayoralty three times.

Smith's problem is, he tried to buy the office of the mayor at the five-fingered discount:

At one stage, Mr. Smith was part of a Democratic power troika that lavished goodies on an openly crooked state senator, Pedro Espada Jr., in the process of getting Mr. Espada to vote with them. Mr. Smith himself recently jumped with a small group of Democratic senators to shift power to the Republican minority. Along the way, an inspector general’s report said he had finagled a casino land deal in Queens. The F.B.I. was also investigating nonprofit groups that he helped obtain government funds.

Undaunted, Mr. Smith set his ambitions on becoming the Republican candidate for mayor of New York City. Strictly speaking, as a Democrat, Mr. Smith had no business on a Republican ballot, but, understandably for a person practiced in the customs of Albany, that seemed like a small obstacle. In fact, he could get a spot on the primary ballot by special dispensation from three of the city’s five county Republican leaders.

These not-so-longish-shot hopes brought him into a series of negotiations that, a federal complaint charged, moved beyond the horse-trading of ordinary legal-graft politics into the realm of outright bribery.

What it seems to boil down to is that federal authorities claim that Mr. Smith swapped road improvements in Rockland County for a spot on the ballot in the Republican primary for mayor in New York City.

For the record, Rockland County is not near the city by a good stretch. It does give one pause.

It sort of boiled down to this, so bear with me, because it gets a little convoluted, but is an interesting read for those who want to read up on the machinations of local government.

There's a real estate developer. He owns a project in Rockland County. That project could stand an infrastructure upgrade to make his gated community a little more attractive.

This developer, he has the ear of many in the state Republican party, because, you know, rich and Republican buys you a lot of access, even in a state as hostile to the GOP as New York.

Unfortunately, that's not enough to buy the necessary permits to buy the road improvements. Luckily, there's a guy in Albany who's got his eyes on a bigger prize who would be willing to help: former State Senate Leader Malcolm Smith.

Smith wants to run for mayor of NYC, but the Democratic field is packed, from current City Council Speaker Christine Quinn to Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, among several others, all of who are term limited out of their current jobs.

The Republican field, however, is pretty wide open, and the only serious threat to Quinn et al. has abandoned the race.

Sounds like a marriage of convenience to me!

On the face of it, not the worst thing in the world, however. I mean, you know, tit for tat, nothing illegal about asking for a favor in exchange for another favor and I’m sure the developer would behave above board in approaching his friends for the favor to Smith.

It's just how the developer got the favors done. After all, favors don't come for nothing.

It's a fascinating story, and points out the need for campaign finance reform up and down the government, but also much more oversight in how deals are developed.

But ponder for a moment this: in an age when more and more governance is pushed down the ladder to the states and local governments, how many Malcolm Smiths are out there, hiding in the woodwork, who will never ever be caught because there's no oversight and the local newspapers are often in cahoots with the corruption?

(Cross-posted to Simply Left Behind.)

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