2009-06-19 / Columnists

The Rockaway Beat

Bring In The Clowns - Wait. They're Here!
Commentary By Howard Schwach

Those of you who read this space regularly know that I am in the middle of a series of pieces on Rockaway's history and the demise of the peninsula in the 1950s and 1960's.

I have to take a break from that pursuit, however, to address what is going on in Albany and particularly with our own Malcolm Smith.

It's almost too easy to take a shot at Smith and the rest of the state legislators, both in the Senate and the Assembly, because they have proven once again that we need statewide term limits that mimic the limits on city legislators.

Two terms and out! That should be the rule for Assembly Members and State Senators as it was in the city until Mayor Bloomberg decided that he was too important to move into the retired realm and bought off enough City Council members to push through his anti-Democratic coup against the electorate.

Let's look at the main state players. Malcolm Smith has represented Rockaway ever since Al Waldon retired to become a judge.

He was probably already a step of two above his level of competency when he won that job. He probably won only because the Democratic Party was interested in keeping it a minority seat and Smith was the close protégée of the Reverend Floyd Flake, who was once our Representative and runs one of the largest churches in Queens.

When he became the Majority Leader of the Senate in January, many local politics-watchers, including myself, scoffed derisively, figuring that the odds were low that he would last in the position.

He lasted five months. The reality is that even if the Democrats regain control over the Senate, Smith will not be the party's leader.

As Elio Velez, our sport's editor said recently, "Smith is a dead man walking."

I particularly liked the Daily News editorial cartoon on Thursday that portrayed Smith sitting in a toaster, burning from the heat, holding a Blackberry device that says on its screen, "U R Toast."

The two Democrats who moved over to vote with the Republican minority, giving the opposition party control over the Senate were Pedro Espada and Hiram Monserrate.

They are two of the gang of four who earlier held Smith hostage on the leadership question, demanding perks for themselves in order to vote with Smith and give him the leadership.

Obviously, Tom Galisano, a Republican millionaire, offered them more.

Espada is fairly representative of many State Senators.

He owes more than $13 thousand in campaign fines. He lives in Westchester County, not in his Bronx district. Channel 2 news tracked him down and he put on an orange hat and sunglasses to try and fool the television reporters.

He tried to give $745 thousand in pork-barrel grants to his own non-profit, which, in turn, paid him a yearly salary of more than $200 thousand.

This is the paragon of virtue that told everybody he moved to the Republican side because the Democrats were not acting in the best interests of the people.

Monserrate, a former cop and former City Councilman, was elected to the Senate last year. He represents a northern Queens district and, by all reports, actually lives in his district. He was arrested in December and charged with slashing his girlfriend with broken glass. While both Monserrate and his girlfriend now say that it was all an accident, tapes from the scene show the assault clearly enough to probably convict the Senator, unless politics once again rears its ugly head and he gets off.

He was fined $30 thousand in February by the Campaign Finance Board for exceeding spending limits in his campaign.

Another paragon of virtue. The Senate is full of them.

It's full of lots of things.

Monseratte defended his move to the dark side by saying, "This is a new beginning for New York State. A new beginning of bipartisan government, a new beginning for real reform."

Actually it was a new beginning for several politicians who now have power they never had before to pursue their anti-Democratic policies.

If you believe that any of the politicians in Albany are interested in anything other than their own careers, I have a nice bridge you might want to buy.

I like Malcolm Smith. He is a very nice guy. He spent a few hours with us at The Wave office last year and he was pleasant and had some good ideas. He said that if he ever became the leader, he would immediately put in reforms that would make the Senate more democratic and do away with the "three men in a closed room" form of government. Obviously, he did not do what he said he would.

He just became one of the three men in that room.

At least until he angered the millionaire Golisano, by not paying enough attention to his ideas.

Golisano turned around and invited the Republicans to plot Smith's overthrow. Golisano planned the coup and then financed it.

That's the Albany version of democracy.

According to the New York Times, Golisano spent heavily to help Smith and other Democrats win control over the Senate last November and was angry to hear that they were now raising taxes on the wealthy.

He expected the treatment befitting his rank and wealth, the Times said. Instead, Smith sat in the room with Golisano and checked his Blackberry, continually reading his mail and texting back messages to others.

After all, shouldn't a millionaire who helped fund a campaign have the final say in Albany?

As I have said many times before, all politicians are whores.

It's time we threw out the Albany politicians and bring in some new blood in the hope that at least of few of them will really want the true reform that the present state legislative bodies promise but never deliver.

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