After State Sen. Marc Panepinto’s surprise announcement that he will not seek re-election, my first reaction – just like yours – was to invoke the presumption of innocence.
Once that quickly passed, I couldn’t help but recall former Senate Democratic Leader Manfred Ohrenstein, former Chief Judge Sol Wachtler, former Gov. Eliot Spitzer, former State Comptroller Alan Hevesi, former Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith, former Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada, former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and former Cheektowaga Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak.
And with Panepinto, a Buffalo Democrat, under investigation as the latest addition to that list of officials forced to quit and/or be convicted after financial or sexual lapses comes the obvious question: What the *&%$ were they thinking?
You won’t find the answer in the state rules or bylaws. Instead, you have to turn to Webster’s Dictionary of Political Behavior. Since Albany is immune to rational order, it’s not surprising that the resource is not arranged alphabetically. Nevertheless, it is the citizen’s handy compendium to comprehending the incomprehensible and understanding the government you’re paying for:
Wisdom, noun, the natural ability to understand things most other people cannot; usage: The obvious question is how politicians smart enough to lure both special interest dollars and unsuspecting voters can be stupid enough to think they – unlike all the offenders before them – can’t possibly be caught.
The answer comes from 17th-century philosopher Thomas Hobbes, who recognized that the very conceit that makes each of us think we are more wise than most is, in fact, what makes us all so equal. Or, as the Englishman explained when dismissing the unique wisdom each of us thinks he possesses, “For there is not ordinarily a greater sign of the equal distribution of anything than that every man is contented with his share.”
Conundrum, noun, an intricate and difficult problem; usage: Panepinto won the state’s most expensive legislative contest less than two years ago, with $3 million showered on the four contenders. The winner was brought to you by New York State United Teachers, which spent $1.14 million to help him garner 34 percent of the vote and be the union’s bulwark against school reform because education in New York already is so good.
How do unions, businesses and other special interests purchase such politicians and the government they want? Because New Yorkers refuse to demand public funding of state campaigns. Yet these same voters, aware of how much the game is rigged and how much their choices are limited, stay home in droves. That, in turn, makes the influence of special interests even more pronounced on Election Day, presenting a conundrum that explains why scandal happens again and again and again.
Sap, noun, someone prone to being taken advantage of; usage: A few saps dutifully trudge to the polls every election to choose from among those the special interests put on the ballot, naively thinking that something will change. Yet it’s clear again that ethics reform won’t be part of the budget package due by April 1 because we let Albany’s finest keep doing the same things over and over.
Insanity, noun: You already know Einstein’s definition.