Following a string of resignations tied to New York Gov. David Paterson's various scandals, the latest casualty Thursday was his communications director, Peter Kauffmann. "Unfortunately, as recent developments have come to light, I cannot in good conscience continue in my position," he said. Kauffmann’s testimony was critical in an ethics panel’s finding that Paterson and aides illegally obtained World Series tickets. So far, the superintendent of the state police and the assistant secretary to the governor for criminal justice have also resigned.
From former Mayor Ed Koch to Spitzer strategist Hank Sheinkopf, veteran New York politicos tell The Daily Beast’s Samuel P. Jacobs that the scandals rocking the state this week are disgraceful, but there’s a silver lining—at least they’re not Jersey.
“Tough time to be an honest, good politician.” That was former New York City Mayor Edward Koch’s assessment of the climate surrounding the Empire State’s elected officials. Actually, it seems like a tough time to find an honest politician.
The drip-drip of bad news surrounding Gov. David Paterson continues to leak out of The New York Times. In just the latest, the embattled governor is being called out for violating state ethics laws by nabbing Yankees tickets gratis.
On Wednesday morning, Rep. Charlie Rangel, who has served Harlem since 1971, was stripped of his gavel, denied the honor of leading the House Ways and Means Committee, one of the lower chamber’s most powerful bodies.
“We probably have nothing on Louisiana, New Jersey, and the mob in Chicago. Every state goes through its corrupt periods. We’re in a period of bad luck,” Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf said.
Later that same day, Rep. Eric Massa, a Democrat like Rangel and Paterson, announced he would retire after having only served one term in office. Politico reported that the decision came after an allegation of sexual harassment from a male staffer. Massa cited his battle with cancer as the reason for his early exit.
These three tumbles came shortly after the case of the $177 bagel. New York City Council Member Larry B. Seabrook, a Bronx Democrat, was charged with fraud and money laundering, which included one unforgettable scheme: allegedly taking a $7 receipt for a bagel sandwich and doctoring it to get a $177 reimbursement. Then there’s Hiram Monserrate, the assemblyman from Queens, who was caught on tape in January dragging a bleeding woman from his apartment.
Corruption in New York City politics is as old as Boss Tweed, who pocketed millions with his hand on the till at Tammany Hall. From its founding myth forward, Manhattan has been overseen by city fathers on the make. Just recall that grade-school lesson about the Dutch grabbing Gotham for a string of beads. Yet it’s hard to recall an age when so many of New York’s statesman stumbled in such quick succession—and in such colorful fashion.
It’s enough to make one think New York City’s elected have finally joined ranks with Trenton’s thieving rabbis, Chicago’s seat-traders, and the folks responsible for Louisiana’s freezers full of pilfered dough.
“It’s a weird stretch of bad luck. Certainly, there are places that have a worse history of corruption. We probably have nothing on Louisiana, New Jersey, and the mob in Chicago. Every state goes through its corrupt periods. We’re in a period of bad luck,” said Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf, who has worked on hundreds of campaigns including Eliot Spitzer.
Henry Stern, longtime City Hall gadfly, said Wednesday that things could be worse for New Yorkers. They could live in New Jersey—or Connecticut.
“New Jersey is the most corrupt state in the Northeast, and in Connecticut, the governor was sent to jail for stealing. Our governors are only guilty of sexual misconduct, not stealing state money,” Stern said.
“I think if you asked me, I think New York is better than New Jersey, where everyone is said to be on the take except [former Gov. Jon] Corzine obviously. He was on the give,” said Stern, who now directs the New York Civic organization.
“The whole thing is tawdry and disgraceful,” Koch said. He is particularly exercised about Paterson, who is accused of intimidating a woman from getting a protective order against her boyfriend, a top gubernatorial aide. Koch told reporters last week that the governor had gone against his advice by declining to resign.
Koch added that such scandals will make the climate toxic for all office-holders.
“Every single incumbent and political officer has a bull’s eye on his back,” Koch said. “I believe they are going to get hauled by the carload in November.”
Benjamin Sarlin contributed reporting to this story.
Samuel P. Jacobs is a staff reporter at The Daily Beast. He has also written for The Boston Globe, The New York Observer, and The New Republic Online.