The late comedian Joey Adams could always get a laugh poking fun at New York’s corrupt politicians.
“I just came from the annual dinner of the New York Democratic Party in Albany,” Adams told a Manhattan audience in 1989. “The rule of admission is, ‘If you’re indicted, you’re invited!’”
Adams’ audience roared. They knew what he meant: Empire State Democrats had just gone through a series of indictments of major political figures, among them two U.S. congressmen, Mario Biaggi and Robert Garcia, for bribery by officials of Wedtech Corp.
It was funny because it was something New Yorkers had been used to for more than a century. It was part of a culture of corruption that dated back to the Tammany Hall Democratic machine in the 19th century that ruled New York’s City Hall in a manner that today would be dubbed “ethically challenged.”
Two days ago, it was the Republicans’ turn.
New York state Sen. Malcolm Smith of Queens was arrested in an alleged plot to pay the Republican leaders in the five boroughs of New York to permit the Democratic lawmaker to run for mayor as a Republican. Five other politicians were arrested with Smith, among them City Councilman Dan Halloran, a Republican nominee for Congress last fall.
“I first met Halloran at a conference of libertarians a few years ago and he was a true libertarian — believing you do whatever you want,” George Marlin, former New York Port Authority head and 1993 mayoral nominee of the New York Conservative Party, told me. “And he sure lived up to that philosophy — do whatever you want until you get caught!”
According to a statement from the U.S. attorney, Halloran told a government agent posing as a wealthy real-estate developer that he wanted to “get his mortgage situation resolved” and to be named deputy police commissioner if Smith were elected mayor.
As to the long-term impact of this latest installment in the sad saga of the “culture of corruption” in New York, no one can say.
The 56-year-old Smith was, at best, a long shot had he been able to get the permission of the GOP leaders to run on their ticket. His probable exit from the mayoral primary makes it likely the Republican mayoral nominee will be Joe Lhota, onetime deputy mayor under Rudy Giuliani and now chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
Considered a liberal on cultural issues and a fiscal conservative, Lhota hopes to offer the image of outsider reformer as a fresh alternative to the Democratic contenders who have long been on the inside of Gotham politics.
But given the increasingly Democratic nature of New York, Lhota’s chances are, at best, slim.
A longer-term result of the arrests is that they will spur younger, more conservative Republicans who want change to make a move to take over the party. Among those arrested on Tuesday were two powerful figures in the city's GOP: Bronx Republican Chairman Joseph Savino and Queens GOP Vice Chairman Vince Tabone.
With so many party leaders facing court dates, the opportunity for a new wave of leaders sweeping out the old guard is obvious.
“Maybe, in terms of cleaning this mess up, the man to look at is [City Councilman] Eric Ulrich, who has long been at war with the Queens Republican leadership,” historian David Pietrusza, who knows all things about New York, told me. Pietrusza said Ulrich was calling for former Rep. Bob Turner, a strong conservative, to take over the Queens Republican Party.
Another interesting figure to watch is Rudy Giuliani — not who you think, but a cousin of the former mayor of the same name and, at 28, the chief of staff to Ulrich.
So perhaps out of the events of this week, some true reform and change will come to the Republican Party in New York City. For now, however, it appears as though Joey Adams’ quip can be applied to bipartisan events.
John Gizzi is the former political editor for Human Events, working for theconservative weekly from 1979 to 2013. Gizzi is a recipient of the William A. Rusher Award for Journalistic Excellence, was named Journalist of the Year by the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2002, and has appeared on hundreds of radio and TV talk shows.
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