In an effort to convince several thousand Nassau County voters that it’s the other side that’s corrupt, the Republican and Democratic parties will now put on a four-month demonstration of the cynical, corrosive, casual corruption that has rotted both parties.
Egged on by cable television conglomerates and consultants that stand to make a lot of money, both sides say they expect to spend seven figures, perhaps $2 million each or more, to win the special election to replace the convicted State Senator Dean Skelos in the 9th district, based in southwest Nassau.
The New York Times says this will be a “multimillion dollar contest serving as a framework for the larger 2016 debate around ethics.” Newsday declares that “The broad themes of the campaign are already clear: corruption, change and ‘regional balance.’”
It’s comforting to some of us to have the politicians and the media dictate to voters what is supposed to be important to them months from now, but it’s not that easy to predict. For example, Skelos had the ability to deliver a lot of state money and largesse into the district and a lot of organizations and civic leaders will have more in mind than vague “ethics” when figuring out which candidate might be best.
The convictions of Assembly Speaker Silver and Senate Majority Leader Skelos within 10 days of each last December was spectacular and unprecedented. Neither party can claim purity or innocence.
The Skelos and Silver convictions were based on circumstantial evidence, but prosecutors never demonstrated a razor-sharp quid pro quo in which everyone could nod and agree and wave fingers. Particularly in the Skelos case, a large part of the prosecution seemed to involve painting father and son as skeezeballs who say nasty things behind the backs of colleagues.
Most voters aren’t concerned about vague “corruption.” They assume that there is a certain amount of corruption built into the system. Voters want results. They want the people’s business to get done.
The Nassau County Democratic organization, such as it is, has purchased radio advertising trying to tie local Republican senators to Skelos. The ad buy was reportedly less than $25,000, which is enough to get incurious reporters to write about it but not enough to actually move opinion or votes. Nassau Democrats lost another county legislator to felony conviction last year. A former Democratic town board member had to testify in the Skelos trial about helping hide $20,000 in payments to the son.
When both parties use the same fundraising lists, call the same telephone numbers for large contributions, compete for the same dollars, you’re going to get the same behavior, on and off the legislative floor.
If you want to fix corruption in Albany, then fix the way our legislators pay for their campaigns.
Former U.S. Senator Al D’Amato has been calling clients and donors asking them to back the presumed Democratic candidate, Assemblyman Todd Kaminsky (Daily News, January 4).
Not much on Earth matters less than which side wins that special election. If, as expected, Governor Cuomo calls the election for April 19, most of the legislative session will be finished, including the next state budget. Because several Democratic senators work in tandem on some issues with Republicans, the overall balance of power will not be changed.
Dems are trying to prove that they can win in a seat opened up even after a felony conviction of a longtime Republican senator. In the recent special election to fill a seat based around Binghamton, the Democrat went in as a prohibitive frontrunner and came out shellacked by nearly four-to-one. Republicans must show that they will continue to win despite a shrinking enrollment and demographic base almost everywhere in New York.
It’s an investor showcase, not a battle over ideas or visions or even ethics.
Michael Miller (firstname.lastname@example.org) has worked in state and local government. He lives in New Hyde Park. The views expressed in this column are not necessarily those of the publisher or Anton Media Group.