Editorial: Corruption embedded in Long Island politics

06/09/2018 6:00 AM |

If you have followed Long Island politics for a while, one fact stands out: corruption seems to be deeply entrenched and part of the fabric of both parties. 

Go back and read about the charges leveled against Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos. Those two power brokers led their respective parties in the state Legislature for years. They left politics in disgrace, and Mr. Silver was recently convicted for a second time on corruption charges. 

Mr. Skelos, whose corruption conviction was overturned, is awaiting retrial later this month.

Boiled down to its most basic meaning, Mr. Silver lined his own pocket while pretending to be a great public figure looking out for the working families of New York State. What a fraud. This is how a prosecutor described the charges against him: “Sheldon Silver repeatedly used his enormous public power for his own enormous private gain.”

Last week, a federal jury in U.S. District Court in Central Islip acquitted former Oyster Bay town supervisor Joseph Venditto of corruption charges; state charges against him are pending. The jury failed to reach verdicts on former Nassau County executive Edward Mangano and his wife, Linda, and the judge declared a mistrial.

As the wife of the county executive, Ms. Mangano was accused of taking $450,000 for a no-show job. What was the “job”? She was a “food taster” at a restaurant owned by a key player in the corruption allegations against the Manganos and Mr. Venditto. It appears she felt entitled to some extra income once her husband assumed the top job in the county.

Pictures of the smiling couple — he the former head of one of the richest, most highly taxed suburban counties in America — making their way into federal court each day are a cliché of Long Island politics. We’ve seen pictures of Long Island pols heading to court before; we’ve seen them in handcuffs before.

Newsday reported that the jury deadlocked, with 11 jurors voting to convict Mr. Mangano and one — the foreman — voting for acquittal. It appeared as though the jury was ready to acquit Ms. Mangano before the mistrial was declared.

Any study of Long Island politics will show that a number of people, of both parties, got into it for corrupt reasons. To them, politics is a game to be played. They want their hands on the spigot: to turn it on when they want and turn it off when they don’t. Some of those who have been charged acted more like mob bosses who wanted in on the action. Review the charges that were filed a number of years ago against John Powell, former Suffolk County GOP chairman. He could have been a bit player in a biopic of John Gotti.

That all this has taken place in the land of high property taxes, where government is very expensive, makes the sight of the smiling politician heading into court all the more galling. They certainly do not represent government “by the people and for the people.” They are in it for themselves.

On the national level, it seems like a new accusation is made against the Trump administration every day, even as a federal investigation that has already resulted in 19 indictments and five guilty pleas continues. Stories of cabinet members spending lavishly on trips and personal items make us wonder why these people got into government in the first place. 

Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, is facing more than a dozen investigations. Yet he continues in his job. He would seem to be the poster boy for the “swamp.” It was recently reported that his aide spent more than $1,500 on fountain pens. Reports also surfaced that he asked an aide to help his wife seek a Chick-fil-A franchise. 

Locally, we are lucky to live on eastern Long Island. Our governments are smaller, closer to the public, more transparent. The New England town hall meeting is the ideal.

It has to stay that way. If you want to know what happens when politicians set out to rob the system, you don’t have to look far. 

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