Once a source of national leaders of both political parties, New York state has descended into a bizarre, riveting spectacle of corruption and political debasement, with its governor facing calls to resign as well as new charges of accepting illicit perks and lying under oath, the dean of its congressional delegation giving up his gavel over corruption charges and another House member announcing he won’t run again amid allegations of sexual harassment.
And that was just yesterday.
The latest, dizzying episodes of political disgrace in New York follow a half-decade of disaster during which three top state politicians were forced out amid allegations of everything from large-scale theft to small-scale sexual indiscretions.
And while Republican leaders have drawn their share of blame (and indictments), New York is now effectively a one-party state. Its current scandals attach themselves to the dominant Democrats, and the riveting soap opera is feeding a narrative of corruption that threatens to deepen the party’s national woes and distract from the White House’s attempt to refocus the country on health care. And it also hastens a decades-long diminution of the state’s 20th-century pre-eminence, a rise powered by the reform-driven Roosevelt presidencies.
At this point, only two of the six statewide elected officials, Sen. Chuck Schumer and Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, were actually elected to the positions they hold.
New York loves to reflect on itself, and the city’s scholars say the core of its political problems is one that haunts old Democratic bastions everywhere: The old, vibrant, flawed Democratic machines have collapsed, but they haven’t really been replaced by anything.
“We’ve cut off our new sources of talent and basically kept young people out,” said Mitchell Moss, a professor of urban planning at New York University. “[Rep. Edolphus] Towns and [Former Rep. Major] Owens and Rangel were very tough on young African-American politicians. You had to be a blood relation to get anywhere."
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