Fiorello LaGuardia (elected mayor of New York City on the Republican AND the Liberal line...those were the days, my friend) famously said there is no Democratic way or Republican way of picking up the trash. First of all, that may no longer be true, thanks to the scourge of privatization. Second of all, let's not pretend there are NO differences between the Democrats and the Republicans -- at least their stated policies on everything from health care to immigration to climate change are different in ways that truly matter.
All that said, it may be time for new mantra for the 21st Century: There is no Democratic way or Republican way of sucking up to billionaire campaign donors and corrupting yourself. Both parties do it, and frankly, it's more painful to watch when it's Democrats because many of the worst offenders pretend to be champions of the downtrodden. Say this for the GOP -- at least when they slavishly protect the interests of the 1 Percent, they're not hypocritical.
Take New York's Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo...
Andrew Cuomo, meet Louis XIV, France’s Sun King. As tradition has it the Bourbon monarch, who ruled from the mid-1600s until 1715, quipped “L’État, c’est moi,” which translates “I am the State.” Fast-forward three centuries, and Cuomo II sounds awfully like the long-dead Louis.
When confronted with pushback over his decision in March to disband an anti-corruption commission—the so-called Moreland Commission—which Cuomo himself appointed in 2013, the governor was defiant. He bellowed to Crain’s: “It’s my commission. My subpoena power, my Moreland Commission. I can appoint it, I can disband it. I appoint you, I can un-appoint you tomorrow...It’s my commission. I can’t ‘interfere’ with it, because it is mine. It is controlled by me.” For history buffs, the commission itself takes its name from a 1907 law that empowers New York’s governors to appoint investigative bodies to root out wrongdoing.
Cuomo may now be learning that executive arrogance comes with a price. Immediately after the governor’s self-aggrandizing pronouncement, Preet Bharara, the federal prosecutor for the Southern District of New York, expressed his dismay with Cuomo, particularly given the state’s corruption-rich environment. So there’s no doubt, the Empire State is among the most corrupt in America. Between 1976 and 2010, New York led America in federal public corruption convictions with more than 2,500.
The March disbanding of the commission didn’t generate much outrage. But then last week, The New York Times dropped a bombshell story on how Team Cuomo rigged the game, and how this latest Moreland Commission was never about being independent. Rather, it was about beating the legislature into submission. The governor himself was effectively off-limits.
Indeed, as the New York Times first reported last week, aides to Cuomo quashed an effort to subpoena the firm that bought air time for Cuomo's political ads, and as the corruption probe -- something the governor had promised voters when he was elected in 2010 -- flew too close to the political sun of the governor's mansion, he killed the whole thing.
Cuomo's time in office has also been morally corrupt. He's another Michael Bloomberg-style faux progressive, good on gay marriage (probably because some millionaires and billionaires are gay) and a few other things like guns, but pro-wealthy on the things that wealthy people seem to care about. He's a zealot for charter schools, just like his hedge fund buddies on Park Avenue, he's anti-labor, and he thwarted a higher minimum wage in New York City while raising millions of dollars from Wall Street. Supporters say that Cuomo "gets things done," but if they aren't things that help the middle class, what good is that?
The worst part is that Cuomo is cruising toward re-election, thanks to the usual disorganization both on his right (if you think the Philadelphia GOP is lame, check out New York's Republican Party) and his left. But -- because New York is a late primary state -- there is still a chance for liberals in this so-called liberal state that (excepting Bill de Blasio) elects so few actual liberals to do something. I don't endorse candidates at Attytood, but I do think there are times when a politician needs a wakeup call. Democratic voters in New York have a chance to send Cuomo and other hypocritical party leaders a message on Sept. 9, and vote for an actual progressive, law school professor Zephyr Teachout. Or they can endorse four more years of corrupt Wall Streetism. It's something they should seriously -- seriously -- consider.