New York Politics Has Become an Embarrassment

Is it too much to ask that New York political leaders behave like actual grown ups?

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Is it too much to ask that political leaders in the state in which one grew up behave like actual grown-ups?

New York once had a proud political history. It has produced four presidents (including both Roosevelts), plus Grover Cleveland, who was born in New Jersey but went to the White House via Buffalo's City Hall. Past political figures include such bold-face names as Kennedy, Clinton, Moynihan, Javits, and LaGuardia.

And now? We have a gubernatorial candidate, GOP nominee Carl Paladino, who publically menaced a veteran statehouse reporter over the question of whether his opponent cheated on his wife, as Paladino himself has acknowledged doing.

New York Post State Editor Frederick U. Dicker challenged Paladino to back up Paladino's unsupported claims that the Democratic nominee, state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, had an affair when he was married. Paladino, who has acknowledged fathering a child during his own extramarital affair, is furious with photographers who showed up at the young girl's home to take pictures.

"You send another goon to my daughter's house, I'll take you out, buddy," Paladino told Dicker outside a Business Council of New York State dinner in Bolton Landing. "You're gonna take me out? How you gonna do that?" Dicker responded. "Watch," Paladino said.

Now, Paladino is rightly upset that photographers came to his daughter's house, where the candidate says a photographer put a camera lens right up against the window to shoot inside the house. The newspaper disputes Paladino's account, saying it was not a Post employee who behaved that way. And Dicker is known as an unusually aggressive reporter, having tussled with Albany political figures in the past. But that doesn't excuse a public scene that looked like a taping of The Sopranos.

But what could one expect from a state with a string of embarrassing priors? Former Governor (and onetime state attorney general) Eliot Spitzer was forced to resign in 2008 when it was disclosed that he visited prostitutes. His successor, David Paterson, acknowledged almost immediately after taking the oath of office that he had engaged in several extramarital affairs. Later, he was caught up in the case of a former aide accused of domestic violence, and was cited last July for "inappropriate conduct" because Paterson had contacted the alleged victim in the case.

Meanwhile, state legislators competed with their own drama. In June of 2009, two Democratic state senators (one embroiled in a financial and political scandal, the other eventually convicted of cutting up his girlfriend's face) flipped to vote for GOP leadership, giving Republicans apparent control of the chamber. Outraged Democrats called the developments illegal, and denied keys to the chamber to the Republicans (who eventually secured them another way). Then one of the nominal Democrats flipped back, leaving the Senate deadlocked at 31-31. Normally, the lieutenant governor would cast the deciding vote, but the most recent lieutenant governor had just become governor to replace Spitzer, AKA "Client Number Nine."

So Paterson appointed Richard Ravitch as his second-in-command, swearing him in at a Brooklyn steakhouse. Cuomo—that's the one now seeking Paterson's job—claimed the appointment was illegal.

The second state senate party-hopper then flipped his support back to the Democrats, giving them back the majority in the state senate, and Ravitch's appointment was upheld by the courts. Is it any wonder New York voters are disgusted with their Democratic leaders?

But the GOP's Paladino—already under fire for forwarding smutty and racist e-mails—may, sadly, fit right in.

  • See an Opinion slide show of the bad candidates of 2010.
  • Follow the money in Congress.
  • Check out a roundup of political cartoons on the 2010 campaigns.