Why Do New Yorkers Like Electing Criminals?
NEW YORK—After seeing State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s arrest for allegedly taking bribes and kickbacks—and in recent history, a host of politicians being implicated by graft charges, New Yorkers should get angry about public corruption in city and state politics, said U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara on Friday.
He implored the public to expect more from their elected officials and call for real reform as an answer to “the cauldron of corruption” in Albany, in a speech delivered at New York Law School.
“When so many of their leaders can be bought for a few thousand dollars, they should think about getting angry,” said Bharara. “And they should ask some pointed questions. How many other pending bills were born of bribery?”
Bharara highlighted his office’s work arresting Silver, but also the role that the public plays in making politicians accountable.
“A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves,” said Bharara, quoting American broadcast journalist Edward Murrow.
Although he did not give specifics in his speech, the practice of New Yorkers re-electing officials under criminal investigation has been a bewildering phenomenon to many.
“Part of the process in going after corrupt officials is in educating the public on what their responsibility is in a democracy,” said Laura Limuli, 64, who works in criminal justice.
For instance, Michael Grimm, the former Republican U.S. Representative for a district in Staten Island, was re-elected for a third term last November even after he had been indicted for fraud, federal tax evasion, and perjury. He resigned from his seat, but his re-election baffled many given the ongoing federal criminal investigation at the time.
“Whether it’s that people believe their officials are honest or they don’t want change or that they don’t want to believe that they were duped…” Limuli trailed off incredulously.
Current U.S. Rep Charles Rangel, who represents Harlem, was also re-elected in November, despite alleged ethics violations.
He had been chair of the Ways and Means Committee in Congress, in charge of taxation, but lost the position after being accused by the Housing Ethics Committee of failing to comply with tax laws and renting multiple rent-stabilized New York apartments.
“I found [his re-election] really disturbing because he repeated the same—worse things than Adam Clay Powell had ever done,” said Limuli, who could recall Powell, who was Rangel’s predecessor, being brought up on charges when she was in high school.