Regarding the hubbub in the Albany press corps over Sen. Joseph Bruno's questionable use of government aircraft, the conventional wisdom has it that a rogue element in the administration of Gov. Eliot Spitzer sought to embarrass Bruno, a political opponent (and one of two remaining architects of government dysfunction) by involving the State Police in "espionage."
What it really boils down to was a report on Bruno's travel in order to leak to the press that it was often for partisan political purposes and not government business.
This is supposed to be a scandal of such magnitude as to be Albany's own Watergate moment. It is no such thing.
That the State Police gathered the information creates an appearance of something much more sinister than it is. Bruno is entitled to a State Police escort; he's not entitled to bend the rules. They don't question his itinerary for its probity, but neither should they have to keep it a secret.
We have a right to know if his travel on our tab is on the up and up. That's hardly espionage.
What the investigation by Attorney General Andrew Cuomo found was that Bruno's travels were, in fact, often for partisan political purposes and only thinly veiled as government business.
That's why he said that policy on using taxpayer-funded aircraft is "overly permissive and porous and allows for an abuse of taxpayer funds."
The truth is that most everyone in public life likes to live large on the taxpayers' tab. They are modern-day royalty and without additional perks and financial emollients, a legislator's life would be unlivable at a mere $100,000 per year -- so they take advantages.
The Assembly Speaker takes a salary from some personal injury law firms in New York City. Others buy cars with campaign cash, or steer state spending to friends. It's unseemly, but it's business as usual in Albany.
With Bruno under federal investigation and his majority mere months away from evanescing, it was stupid to try to stage-manage the revelation of one minor peccadillo in a sea of abuses; stupid, but not much more, and certainly not criminal.
And as for what the governor knew and when did he know it -- well, no one knows. But even if he knew something, it proves only one thing: that even a smart, good leader can sometimes be injudicious.
Weighed against a decade of dysfunction, I'd give the governor the benefit of the doubt and move on. In the scheme of things, with Buffalo, Rochester, and the rest of upstate slowing dying, there are more important issues to focus on.
Mark Alesse was a leading spokesman for the small business community for 20 years, and served on the Assembly and Senate staff in research and policy-making positions.