Feds take down a bit player in NYC

New York City politics is a coven of big men, trolls, gate keeper, fix-it artists and grifters. Connections are key to advancement and the currency is, in fact, currency. No one gets access unless you have something to offer. The culture of corruption in New York government is so pervasive that it’s brazenly commercialized, much to the astonishment of rubes when they first encounter it. I remember one of my first encounters, many years ago, when I learned that in order to get building department approval of a relatively minor interior change (involving no structural work) in a small suite of offices in a midtown commercial building, it could pay an “expediter,” one of the many persons with access to the numerous government agencies that live off commercial activity in this city or I could wait until, well it was never specified, but the implication was that no person who ever dealt with the buildings department ever took that chance. It was never explained what the cash was used for, but I suppose it was for “expertise.” That, of course, was child’s play in the web of connections that must be dealt with if one is to simply “get on.”

On more exalted levels, I’m talking about those giants who wish to run the failing schools and hand out access to the increasingly smaller middle and lower class housing stocks and decide who gets some of the numerous contracts for all sorts of things in this town, I’m talking about those luminaries who walk among the City Council and call the Mayor “Mike” in public, whose daily deals are on a level that ordinary honest people cannot even fathom. The intellectual corruption is fairly breath-taking when you hear these people talk. I cannot imagine what the practical corruption, that is, what they do all the time, their metier so to speak, must entail. The game of Monopoly was invented years ago to describe the economic/political landscape of an unregulated and insufficiently taxed city. We need a new game to describe current realities, Pay-to-Play.™

Fortunately, one part of one of the United States Attorneys offices here has decided to step into the breach. No, there is no movement on the investigation of John Liu’s campaign contribution “irregularities.” That takes too much legwork. The New York Times took in October 2011 took an official list of his contributors and called 100. Of those 24 claimed they had not contributed. Others didn’t exist. You can see how complicated the investigation must be. No, it’s not the other criminal problem Mr. Liu has, his key financial “expediter” (so to speak), Mei-Hua Ru.  Ms.Ru, Mr. Liu’s “Chief Scheduler,” seems to have been around when illegal foreign money from one Oliver Pan into the coffers of Mr.Liu. No, that investigation has only been around since 2009, so it has not become ripe enough.

What happened today was much more significant. Malcolm A. Smith, an African-American state senator from Queens, one-time mionority leader of the state senate who rose to the exalted position of Temporary President of the Senate (when the Democrats took over that body in 2009), was arrested for attempting to bribe the five Republican dons of New York City for access to the Republican ballot. Now clearly Mr. Smith is a far sharper political tack than I ever was, but I still cannot see the prospects of an African American winning the mayoralty on the Republican ballot, even if he could have persuaded the Republic leaders to give him the shot. I guess we will have to wait for the evidence to be presented. Those of us who live in New York City, where the criminal conspiracy was hatched and who would have been the victim of this crime had it come to fruition, will have to take the Metro-North to see the trial, however, since it will take place outside the city, in White Plains. In addition to Mr. Smith a number of Republican big shots were also arrested: Daniel J. Halloran III, member of the august New York City Council (from Queens), Joseph J. Savino, the Bronx G.O.P. chairman; Vincent Tabone, vice chairman of the Queens Republican Party; and Noramie F. Jasmin, the Republican mayor of the Rockland County village of Spring Valley, and her deputy, Joseph A. Desmaret. You have to admire how Mayor Jasmin got her snout into this revenue flow, seeing as how the county her village is nestled in isn’t even contiguous to New York City. Something tells me that Mr. Smith’s Chief Scheduler may not have been really plugging in. Mayor Jasmin is also fortunate that she will be able to drive to the courthouse, unlike the other politicians who will have to use the Metro-North or ask their limo drivers to take them.

Arrests and indictments of course are the time for prosecutors to announce their views of the world and get off their chest anything that is bothering them. Reporters are so happy when the great are arrested they show up to hear these adumbrations, because it’s easier that calling up contributors to see if they exist. The current U.S. Attorney of Manhattan did the honors. Preet Bharara was one of Time‘s 100 most influential people of the world in 2012, so this is not your ordinary self-satisfied, self-promotions that prosecutors are wont to give. This is the self-satisfied, self-promotion of a comer:

Today’s charges demonstrate, once again, that a show-me-the-money culture seems to pervade every level of New York government. The complaint describes an unappetizing smorgasbord of graft and greed involving six officials who together built a corridor of corruption stretching from Queens and the Bronx to Rockland County and all the way up to Albany itself. As alleged, Senator Malcolm Smith tried to bribe his way to a shot at Gracie Mansion – Smith drew up the game plan and Councilman Halloran essentially quarterbacked that drive by finding party chairmen who were wide open to receiving bribes.

Now what is curious to me (aside from the goal of this conspiracy from Mr. Smith’s point of view, and why the trial is in White Plains, and how Mayor Jasmin got cut into the money) is that the evidence doesn’t appear to show any quid pro quo for actual political favor. Whether this actually would be any sort of evil, I don’t know. How exactly does someone get on the Liberal Party ticket in New York? Certainly not by votes. And the Republican Party doesn’t seem to be depriving their members of any franchise by taking money (if they did or were willing). It seems that what is necessary to get on the G.O.P. ballot is the assent of each of the five Republican borough chairmen of New York City. What did people think they were taking into account when they gave them unbridled discretion, the public good? Democratic longing? The will of the people? Surely the people of New York City are familiar enough with how decisions are made when powerful men representing territories meet to decide issues concerning politics and justice. I know this because I know how many people saw Godfather I when it first came out. And I’m sure that even more have seen it since.

But even if there was some unforseeable evil in this system that has just now come to light, I’m wondering if it actually happened. The charges seem to involve Mr. Smith paying middle men in order to actually meet these Republican dons, not in paying them for access to the ballot. In other words Mr. Smith’s crimes seem to be that he paid for the services of “expediters.” Now to his everlasting regret they turned out to be agents of the federal government, rather than public minded businessmen who generally dispense their professional services in dealing with the politicians of New York City. That may demonstrate that Mr. Smith really is not ready to be Mayor of this City, but I can’t help wondering how that is much different than anybody else who wants to be heard by the oligarchs who run things here.

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