Monday, March 23, 2009

McLaughlin, Monserrate and Seminerio: Where's the Outrage?


This morning I read a quote in the union newspaper The Chief that made me mad:

"Brian McLaughlin was a colleague and a close friend," said United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, "and this is a sad day for him, his family, and the labor movement."

For those of you who don't know Brian McLaughlin, he is the former Queens Assemblyman and New York City AFL-CIO Central Labor Council President, who plead guilty on March 7th to federal racketeering charges, so that instead of facing 30+ years in prison, he'll likely only end up with 8 to 10.

McLaughlin's crimes were particularly despicable. He ripped off $2.2 million from union members and City taxpayers to spend on stuff like a luxury house on Long Island, a Mercedes Benz, and country club fees. He even plundered money from a Little League set up for the children of union members. To quote the same Chief article, when McLaughlin learned that one of his corrupt confederates had spent $2,800 on equipment for the kids rather than stealing it all, McLaughlin lashed out: "[A]ll that fucking money he's fucking spending on other stuff, that ain't his money ... that's mine."

Nice guy, huh?

You'd think so from the tone of Randi Weingarten's aforementioned quote in The Chief. Weingarten makes it sound like McLaughlin was a good person who somehow lost his way and carelessly fell into bilking Little Leaguers. I wonder if she would publicly express the same messianic compassion for Bernard Madoff.

Now, the intention of this post is not to criticize Weingarten. She is merely representative of a political power structure that hardly ever breaks rank to criticize its members, even when they are deserving of our utmost scorn and contempt.

How bad does an elected official have to be to provoke criticism from their colleagues? These days it seems like that there's no crime a politician can commit that is so heinous that their party's leaders bother to condemn them.

Take Congressman Joe Crowley, the head of the Queens Democratic Party. Crowley was one of the Congressmen who expressed moral outrage last week at A.I.G. execs for receiving millions in bonuses. Surely, if Crowley could muster so much anger over legal bonuses, he must have blown his top when he learned his longtime friend Brian McLaughlin had admitted to stealing over two million bucks from innocent people.

What was Crowley's comment on McLaughlin's crimes? Over two weeks after McLaughlin's guilty plea, he still hasn't made one. (And why hasn't the press demanded one?)

But then again, neither has any other elected official from Queens. Or any Citywide politician, for that matter. What about the candidates for Mayor, Comptroller, or the ombudsman of the people, Public Advocate? Not a word.

Sadly, this is an all-too-familiar silence. Not one politician stood up to condemn disgraced Queens Assemblyman Anthony Seminerio either when he was arrested last September for allegedly using a dummy consulting firm to take $500,000 in payoffs from people seeking his favor in Albany. According to the indictment, Seminerio, a 30-year incumbent, was caught on tape explaining the rationale for his scheme: “I was doing favors for these sons-of-bitches there, you know, they were—they were making thousands. ‘Screw you, from now on, you know, I’m a consultant.’”

Even State Senator Hiram Monserrate has escaped public reproach from his colleagues. Monserrate, who recently leapt from the City Council to the Senate, made the front page of every paper in the city in December when he was arrested for allegedly slashing his girlfriend with a broken glass during a fight. The incident wasn't the first blow to the beleaguered State Senator from Queens. Monserrate was already embroiled in an investigation into a highly dubious nonprofit he directed $250,000 in City money to called Libre, which was run by Julissa Ferreras, his former chief of staff and successor to his Council seat.

How did Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith punish Monserrate, who was indicted this morning on felony assault charges? By throwing him a fundraiser last week!

What did the Working Families Party do to chastise Ferreras for her role in Libre? They endorsed her bid for City Council.

The fact that our politicians, for one reason or another, have collectively decided that it is either inappropriate or, worse, inexpedient to denounce their colleagues-turned-criminals is morally repugnant. When politicians ignore the profound injury done to society when the public trust is violated, they minimize this most serious of crimes in the eyes of the people and send a tacit message to other corrupt elected officials not to worry because their party will be behind them no matter what.

They also perpetuate an environment where district attorneys feel no pressure to investigate their fellow electeds. The whole system becomes a polite d├ętente, governed by the cynical principle that one hand whitewashes the other.

This system works just fine for party insiders and our elected officials, but it damns the rest of us to endure a government stripped of accountability, transparency, and courage.

1 comment:

Queens Crapper said...

Vallone called the married Gallagher's decision to have sex with a woman in his Middle Village office last summer "unwise," but added: "He did not commit the crime of rape...Justice is now done."

"The judge did the right thing in dismissing this indictment, and I would ask that the district attorney not seek to re-present it because justice is now done," Vallone added.