Tuesday, December 16, 2008

OMG: Rod Whatever

The last time I wrote on this blog was a week ago, and it was about Liza Minelli. OMG. What is my problem? How is that I could have gone a week without commenting, if on nothing else, on the cost of a Senate seat in Chicago today? Can I just say, ugh. And also -- dude. A corrupt governor -- who everyone has been trying to get out for some time now, if for no other reason than his last name is simply unpronounceable -- does not a recurrence of the 1920s or 1970s Chicago corruption make. Seriously... let my people go.

The fact of the matter is, I spent last week in Milwaukee. In summary: Cold. Slush. Unanswered prayers for spontaneous waterproofing of my shoes. Meetings. Meetings. Pizza Man. Meetings. Christmas cookies, college reunion and chicken quesadillas. Return flight.

I'm off again soon to Washington for a story, and then Chicago, to try and get a piece of the action.

But today, noticed this story in the New York Times. Apparently, some here are jealous of Chicago's supposed status as corruption capitol.

When It Comes to Political Corruption, New York Can Hold Its Own
Clyde Haberman

New Yorkers have every reason to feel demoralized in this season supposedly of good cheer.

The economy is — well, you know what it is. The city budget is in a deep hole, and the state is staring at a deficit of $15 billion, a figure larger than the gross domestic product of about 50 countries.

As for some of those who still have lots of money, their priorities seem grotesquely skewed. While thousands of poor schnooks are losing jobs and homes, the Yankees find this the perfect time to spend nearly a quarter of a billion dollars — that’s right: billion with a B — to hire two pitchers. This as they boo-hoo-hoo about needing hundreds of millions in municipal aid for their new stadium.

But perhaps the most serious blow to New Yorkers’ morale is a sense that we have been thoroughly outclassed in an area where we have always excelled. We’re referring to corruption and other forms of wrongdoing by public officials. When it comes to bozo politicians, we like to think of ourselves as king of the hill, top of the heap (though a colleague correctly points out that our neighbors in New Jersey and Connecticut are hardly slouches in this regard).

Then along comes Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich of Illinois, he of the implausible hair and the hard to pronounce name. The damage that he has done to New Yorkers’ self-esteem cannot be overstated. It’s not easy topping someone who, if the federal charges against him are true, tried to sell the Senate seat of the president-elect. Years ago, Mike Royko, the great Chicago columnist, called his hometown “the city of the big wallet.” That label may well apply to all of Illinois.

So New Yorkers are understandably smarting. We don’t mind being taken nearly as much as we do being overtaken, and there is an unsettling sensation that Illinois has gotten the better of us.

But in the spirit of the holidays, we come to say: Buck up, New York! Don’t let the Blagosphere get you down. Hold your heads high at the breadth and depth of your leaders’ misdeeds.

In this week’s New Yorker magazine, Roger Angell revives a tradition that had gone AWOL for a decade, this being his name-crammed holiday poem called “Greetings, Friends!” What a field day Mr. Angell might have had if he’d focused solely on our miscreant politicians.

We have Spitzer, Hevesi and Fossella,

Kerik, Rangel and of course Velella.

Really, how can a state feel second-rate when it has a preternaturally sanctimonious governor who is forced out of office after hanging out with prostitutes? That would be Eliot Spitzer, in the unlikely event that you forgot. Nor is there anything second-rate about having a state comptroller, Alan G. Hevesi, who also had to resign because of scandal, in his case because he misused state money.

Representative Charles B. Rangel is being investigated for an impressive array of possible ethical lapses. Bernard B. Kerik continues to face federal corruption charges, a fine mess for a former police commissioner and nominee (for something like an hour and a half) for homeland security secretary. Former State Senator Guy J. Velella was jailed for being more sticky-fingered than was absolutely necessary — and then made us all proud by whining about his punishment.

Of late, we have the spectacle of the drunken-driving Vito J. Fossella, the congressman who was caught both red-handed and red-lipped from all the wine he had knocked back. Mr. Fossella’s disgrace did not deter the mayor and other politicians from gathering on Sunday to say what a swell fellow he was. He even heard himself compared to — we kid you not — Jesus, Benjamin Franklin and Rocky Balboa.

You want corruption, be it proved or alleged?

We have Joseph L. Bruno, until recently the State Senate majority leader, under investigation. Our City Council has been investigated for hiding millions of dollars in secret accounts with phony names. A former assemblyman and former Democratic leader in Brooklyn, Clarence Norman Jr., is doing time for extortion and other crimes. Another former assemblyman, Brian M. McLaughlin, pleaded guilty this year to racketeering charges. Corruption also earned former Assemblywoman Diane M. Gordon a prison sentence.

The list of officials who have run into trouble with the law includes, but is most definitely not limited to, Assembly members Roger L. Green, Gloria Davis and Anthony S. Seminerio, who was indicted last week on federal charges of trading favors for buckets of cash.

And to show how diverse we are in New York, judges land in hot water, too. The latest to be indicted is Judge-elect Nora S. Anderson of Surrogate’s Court in Manhattan, who may well be suspended moments after she takes the oath of office on Jan. 1.

So yeah, Illinois, give us your best shot. New York will go toe to toe with you any time. We might even claim a motto in Latin that Mike Royko proposed for Chicago four decades ago. It works for us, too: Ubi est mea.

Where’s mine?

E-mail: haberman@nytimes.com

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