Friday, December 15, 2006

The Final Arbiter of Comptroller Hevesi's Fate

Let The Voters Decide. Wait, They Already Have!

The trials and tribulations in which NYS Comptroller Alan Hevesi finds himself embroiled refuse to go away. Possible trial in the State Senate (be wary of throwing those stones, ye inhabitants of that glass house), criminal investigation, and whatever the Governor-elect may decide to do once he takes office January 1.

Truth is, The People of the State of New York (which, not coincidently, is the plaintiff in every criminal action), have already spoken on the matter of chauffeurgate, fully exonerating the Comptroller for all related acts by their votes on November 7th -- if not unanimously, then certainly, overwhelmingly.

So why are we still talking about this? Actually, we, the people, are not. We've put it all behind us, offered a hefty "shame on you, Alan Hevesi," accepted his apology (as the State has accepted his $200K in restitution), and moved on. Now its time for the folks in Albany to do the same.

Of course, in the world of political realities, it is doubtful that either the State Senate -- controlled by the opposition party -- or the new Governor -- who sometimes gives an air of "holier than thou" -- will let this slide.

Case in point: State Senator Michael Balboni, a Republican, has all but recanted his earlier thesis that the voter, upon full disclosure of the facts prior to the election, exonerates the wrongdoer by sending him back to office for another term. Somehow, age, not to mention seniority in the GOP-led Senate, have given Mr. Balboni not only wisdom, byt an entirely different -- if not utterly myopic -- perspective.

Consider this. If the Governor, the Senate, or even the Albany County DA should decide to pursue Hevesi to the ends of the earth -- or at least to the bottom of State Street -- then they have an obligation to go after each and every public employee (elected or not) who uses or has ever used a State car or the services of a State employee for personal benefit.

No doubt, if the folks in Albany do decide to open this can of worms, exposing themselves to similar public scrutiny, think of the millions of taxpayer dollars that would have to be repaid to New York State. Why, we could practically eliminate the entire State debt in one fell swoop!

We hear that Libby Pataki, as well as the Governor's mom, got a few free rides in official vehicles over the last 12 years. Who paid for those? Then there are the fire department chiefs (and other personnel) who routinely use department vehicles for everything from chauffeuring the kids to soccer games to camping trips in upstate New York. [Just what was the Chief's car from the Port Washington Fire Department doing on the Garden State Parkway in New Jersey? Tempted to roll down the window and shout out, "Where's the fire?", I figured that the Chief must have been on his way to a training session. Never knew you could get to the Bahamas from Jersey...]

And what about all those county and town employees who use official cars as if they were their own? [Okay, in the Town of Hempstead, everyone in the family is on payroll, so its all "official business!"] If this blogger had a buck for every town vehicle in service for personal use, he'd have enough cash on hand to command a hostile takeover of Google -- Kate Murray, Chief Executive Officer.]

Aside from that old vox populi, consider that Alan Hevesi has not only offered a timely and no excuses mea culpa, he has repatriated to State coffers more than $200,000 [just how much are we paying State employees to drive cars?]. The Comptroller has paid for his crime -- and dearly so.

More than this, the worst punishment that anyone in the public eye, particularly those who are in high office, could possibly face is that long, slow, excruciating fall from grace. So stop already with the "Get Hevesi" movement. He, and we, have suffered enough!

By the way, if you need the license plate numbers of those town vehicles and fire chief SUVs being driven for personal use (and not only around town), we've got them!
- - -
Keeping Faith With Ethics, and Voters


The time may have come for Alan G. Hevesi to begin channeling his inner Adam Clayton Powell Jr. That is, if he has an inner Powell. We’re talking about very different personalities.

Mr. Powell, the Harlem congressman, gave breadth to the word “flamboyant.” He was a rascal with a quick wit, a big grin, even bigger cigars and a taste for Cutty Sark mixed with milk. He especially liked one writer’s description of him as “arrogant, but with style.” When his world started to collapse under the weight of scandal, he encouraged supporters to “keep the faith.”

Mr. Hevesi, the New York State comptroller, is almost the linear opposite. He is aloof, the sort who seems unable to suffer even smart people gladly. Were he ever to utter a memorable phrase, it would more likely than not be something on the order of “keep the car.”

But there is a good reason for Mr. Hevesi to find that inner Powell — somewhere, anywhere — and fast. He is nearing a showdown with forces that want him out of office for having abused the taxpayer’s wallet. By his own admission, he did wrong. For years, he let the state pick up the hefty tab for a car and driver for his long-ailing wife, Carol.

His situation is not identical to Mr. Powell’s back in the 1960s, but it will do.

Because of his legal troubles and allegations of financial shenanigans, the congressman was booted from the seat he had held for 22 years. The House of Representatives voted in 1967 to exclude him.

But two months later, in a special election, Harlem voters sent him right back to Congress by an overwhelming margin. They kept faith with him once more in the regular 1968 election. And the following year the United States Supreme Court ruled, 7 to 1, that it was unconstitutional for Mr. Powell’s House colleagues to have excluded a duly elected member.

In other words, the voters count — a lot.

This simple proposition bears directly on the fate of Mr. Hevesi, who, despite his unadmirable behavior, was re-elected last month, and by a handsome margin at that.

Some people have cast the Hevesi case as a test of the governor-elect, Eliot Spitzer, who has disavowed the comptroller and presents himself as a man of uncommon morality. W.W.E.W. — what would Eliot want? — is for some the guiding light.

For some newspaper editorialists, the issue boils down to how Mr. Hevesi, as the state’s chief watchdog, can now point accusatory fingers at wrongdoers when he himself is so flawed. Never mind that most major newspapers have printed falsehoods in their time — mighty whoppers, even — yet do not feel disqualified from publishing.

But we have those pesky voters.

They knew about Mr. Hevesi’s misdeeds, and still they handed him another term. The comptroller has been emphasizing this point, suggesting that perhaps some Powell-channeling is indeed at work.

SUDDENLY surfaced is an article once written for the Fordham Urban Law Journal by Michael A. L. Balboni, now a Republican state senator from Long Island. Courts have ruled, Mr. Balboni wrote as a young lawyer in 1987, that when the public knows fully about an official’s misconduct and re-elects him anyway, the vote amounts to “an exoneration.”

He in no way defends what Mr. Hevesi did, Mr. Balboni said yesterday. Nonetheless, assuming that no other size-17 shoes drop (like an indictment by an Albany grand jury), “the question is vox populi,” he said. “Does it mean that we truly trust the decision of the jury: the voters?”

Another thought came from Henry J. Stern, a former city parks commissioner, now director of a watchdog group called New York Civic. If the State Senate or Assembly removes Mr. Hevesi, or if he is forced to resign, a new comptroller will be chosen by the very politicians he is supposed to monitor. Not good, Mr. Stern wrote the other day in his organization’s newsletter. “The state comptroller is an independent elected official for a valid reason,” he said.

Douglas A. Muzzio, a professor of public affairs at Baruch College, framed the issue even more bluntly: “Do you have a lapdog watching over you?”

Back to vox pop: It has a strange tendency to slice many ways.

Mr. Powell died in 1972 at age 63, two years after he narrowly lost a Democratic primary to Charles B. Rangel, who still holds that Congressional seat. Harlem voters kept the faith. They just remembered that their primary allegiance was not to a man but to democracy.

Copyright The New York Times Company 2006

No comments:

Post a Comment