2009-07-03 / Columnists

The Rockaway Beat

Commentary By Howard Schwach

I have written many times of the need for term limits on the state level that mimic those already in place for city officials. Or, were in place until Mike the Magnificent decided that he was the only one in the universe that can govern New York City and overturned the wishes of the people by duping gullible City Council members such as James Sanders into believing his utter nonsense.

In any case, I digress again.

We have the most dysfunctional state legislature in the nation.

Notice that I didn't say "arguably the most dysfunctional," because everybody understands and agrees that it is, in fact, the most dysfunctional, and also the worst by any measure you might care to use to compare it with other state legislatures.

Two years ago, a prestigious government think-tank, the Brennan Institute, said in a long report that our state government was fatally dysfunctional. What we are seeing now is just the proof of that dysfunction played out in a very public forum. What we have today is a legislature led partially by our own Malcolm Smith, made up of bullies, crooks, political whores and would-be power brokers.

And, despite the fact that the great majority of our state legislators fall into the above categories they get reelected time after time after time, mainly because they have no opposition or because the electorate is too lazy to find out what they are really doing in Albany.

Last year, more than half of the 212 legislators in the Senate and Assembly won their race with more than 80 percent of the vote. Another 57 ran unopposed. The average New York State Senator has served for nearly seven two-year terms.

It is time to change that paradigm.

Before we get to the global indifference of the Assembly and Senate, a look at our locals should be instructive.

We have two State Senators that cover The Wave's catchment area, Malcolm Smith and Shirley Huntley. Smith has all of Rockaway as well as parts of the mainland in Southeast Queens. Huntley has large chunks of Brooklyn as well as Broad Channel.

Huntley took over rather recently from Ada Smith, who was convicted of misdemeanor harassment and had a history of assaulting police officers of various stripes who crossed her path. Huntley hasn't been around long enough to leave any kind of mark, but she seems to have fit in well with the Democratic mainstream that now belongs in strait jackets.

Malcolm Smith is another story. Smith was already about two levels above his competency level when he became a State Senator. As majority Leader, he was way out of his pay grade.

Why is he there?

Think Floyd Flake, who has become the power broker in Queens Democratic politics after walking away from his seat in the House of Representatives back to his pulpit under a cloud for mixing public money into his parochial school larder.

His church and its spin-off businesses are truly the center of power in Queens, and Smith is his protégée.

Get the picture?

Smith, in the right place at the right time, when disgust of the Republicans pushed the Democrats to a majority in the Senate for the first time in 40 years, literally blew the deal with his ineptness and his lack of ability to hold the majority together.

He has become the laughingstock of politicians all over the nation and the poster boy for dysfunction.

He deserves whatever he gets. Yet, he will win his Senate again in the next election.

Not even his out-of-wedlock child, his dreadful business history, his ineptness or his lack of ability will keep him from once again winning the seat, even though he will never again be the Senate Majority Leader, a position he could only hold for four months in a body where people typically held the job for decades.

Then, we have our two Assembly Members, Audrey Pheffer and Michelle Titus.

Pheffer is a nice person.

I really like her on a personal level, but the fact is, she is the quintessential Democratic Assembly member. Not once in all of her near 20 years in the Assembly has she ever voted against the leadership nor challenged a leadership decision.

She is on the committee that gave control of the schools to Mayor Mike Bloomberg eight years ago. She said that she voted for the proposal because her constituents wanted it. I was at the meetings she held in Rockaway to get input into the then-proposal. Less than a handful showed up at each of the two meetings she held, and most of those were school officials.

We need strong leadership, not somebody who simply goes along with the three men in a closed room form of government, and Audrey is clearly not that person. Yet, she wins time after time after time.

In most elections, she has no challengers. When she does, they are Republicans in a land of Democrats, unable to get much traction on the peninsula.

Then, we have Michelle Titus. Most people in her district do not even know who she is when they vote for her. That is understandable. She has done nothing for her constituents outside of providing the usual member item money to local groups and schools. A dummy could do that, and we would save a salary.

Yet, she wins again and again.

In fact, nobody in our state legislature loses an election unless they are either a criminal or a pedophile and, even then, the election would probably be very close. Something like 97 percent of those incumbents who run for another term win that term.

That, in the most dysfunctional legislature in the nation.

What we really need is term limits for members of the Senate and the Assembly. Two terms, eight years and out, just as it is with the city.

Unless, of course, a sufficient number of legislators can be bribed to break the people's will.

After all, all politicians are whores.

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