Magazine article The New Yorker

Troubled State

Magazine article The New Yorker

Troubled State

Article excerpt

New York has a state flower (rose), a state beverage (milk), a state insect (ladybug), and a state muffin (apple). It also has, if the past few weeks are any indication, a menagerie of politicians whose sole interest seems to be avoiding--and thus exacerbating--the plight of the three hundred and fifty-three thousand New Yorkers who have lost their jobs since 2008. That was the year David Paterson became governor, replacing Eliot Spitzer, who resigned after hopping an Amtrak train to Washington to have sex with a prostitute. The former State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, whom the Spitzer administration had dispatched state police to spy on--"Troopergate," at the time, passed for statehouse scandal--was convicted on two felony counts of mail fraud. Efrain Gonzalez, Jr., another legislator, pleaded guilty to charges that he had used state grants to renovate his mother-in-law's house and to make special cigar bands that read "Assembly" and "Senator." (He is now attempting to withdraw the plea.) According to the state song, "New York is diff'rent cause there's no place else / on earth quite like New York," but, for a while now, New York has been reminding people of Illinois.

Or maybe it's Nevada, whose own governor, amid allegations that he had groped a waitress, recently said in a deposition that he had not had sex since 1995. Albany, this past month, could have been Las Vegas, with fewer scruples. The New York legislator Malcolm Smith--along with Congressman Gregory Meeks--for example, set up a fund that collected thirty thousand dollars to aid the victims of Hurricane Katrina. As of last week, less than two thousand dollars had been dispensed. Meeks and Smith have said that they weren't involved in the day-to-day operation of the fund, but the rest of the money remains unaccounted for. (Downstate, Larry Seabrook, a Bronx councilman, is alleged to have tried to expense a hundred and seventy-seven dollars for a deli lunch--a bagel and a diet soda--and is now known, even as he contests charges against him, as Bagel Larry.) Meanwhile, the Times reported that Paterson may have had a role in covering up a top aide's possible involvement in a Halloween-night incident of domestic violence. Key members of Paterson's administration resigned in protest of the mess surrounding the aide, David W. Johnson--who, Bernard Kerik-like, started out as Paterson's driver and is tight enough with the Governor to have his own bedroom in the Executive Mansion. Paterson did nothing to bolster the public's faith in his integrity, making his major public appearance of last week at the opening of a steak house.

Paterson is supposed to be leading negotiations to balance the nine-billion-dollar budget deficit that must be resolved by April 1st. It's as huge a job as it sounds. So is finding a way to deal with the 2.6 million New Yorkers--nearly fourteen per cent of the state's population--who do not have health insurance. The Governor is also supposed to be finalizing a big deal to bring a "racino" to Aqueduct racetrack, in Queens, but that has stalled because of accusations that he selected an inferior bid from a company in which Floyd Flake, a prominent pastor, is an investor. On top of all this, the State Commission on Public Integrity came out with a report saying that Paterson had violated ethics laws by cadging thousands of dollars' worth of World Series tickets from the Yankees. A lot of people would have thought this a relatively minor infraction had Paterson not, according to the commission, lied about the matter under oath and then produced a backdated check, as though he were a renter and the commission (which he once sought to abolish) a grasping landlord he was trying to outwit. …

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