We're not sure what it is about public officials that makes them think they remain fit for office after pleading guilty to crimes, especially when their offenses harm the public they are meant to serve.
But they do, and if Erie County Legislator George Holt's crime was less severe than that of former State Comptroller Alan Hevesi, he is no more fit for office than the convicted comptroller was. He should have the good graces to resign.
Holt pleaded guilty this week to two misdemeanors, both tax violations. He admitted failing to keep accurate records in 2004 at his Buffalo restaurant, Mattie's, and more damningly, admitted failing to turn over $20,000 in sales tax revenue, a portion of which belonged to taxpayers of the county he was elected to represent. He also knowingly filed false tax reports.
Anyone can have trouble paying his bills, including taxes. That's not an automatic bar to public service. And everyone makes mistakes, but not everyone commits crimes while making them -- and not everyone is sworn to serve the taxpayers his offenses harm.
That was the case with Hevesi, whose problem wasn't forgetting to pay his taxes, but cheating New York taxpayers by having a state-paid employee illegally chauffeur his wife. He pleaded guilty to a felony and resigned. Hevesi's and Holt's offenses are vastly different in the amounts of money involved -- Hevesi repaid the state $206,000 while Holt owed a tenth of that amount -- but the breach of trust is more or less the same.
Holt wasn't merely careless with his taxes, he sat on $20,000 he owed the state and county and, in doing so, ably demonstrated to voters that their confidence in him was misplaced. He cannot be an effective legislator now, any more than Hevesi could be an effective comptroller.