2009-08-28 / Columnists

The Rockaway Beat

Throw The Dysfunctional Bums Out!
Commentary By Howard Schwach

When you are a politician and have a 33 percent approval rating, you know that you are in trouble.

When you have a 33 percent approval rating and you are an entire state legislature, you know that you are in big trouble back home, and had best mend your ways prior to the next election.

If that legislature is working with a governor whose numbers are even worse, then the entire state has a problem, and that's what's facing New York State, whose legislature and governor are the laughing stock of the nation.

The numbers show just what a laughing stock they all are.

A new poll shows that 77 percent of New York voters feel that the state government is dysfunctional - and 49 percent think that all of our Senators and Assembly members should be swept from office.

In addition, a whopping 60 percent said that they believe that our legislature is either "the worst" or "among the worst" in the nation.

What surprises me is that there are actually people who don't see the state legislature as dysfunctional and therefore don't understand how badly we need a new group of legislators who will hopefully do the people's business rather than their own.

When asked what political party is to blame for the problem, 27 percent blamed the Democrats, 24 percent blamed the Republicans, while the rest blamed both parties equally.

Malcolm Smith, who represents Rockaway in the Senate, and who is attempting to work four levels above his level of competency, said that the legislature is "working very hard to serve the public."

"The message we want people to know is that we are working hard to restore their faith in the Senate," his spokesperson said.

That's a joke, right?

Smith was the Senate Majority Leader for about as long as it takes to eat a hamburger with fries.

During the short time he ran the Senate, he forgot that he represented Rockaway. He had no voice in saving the Cross Bay Bridge toll. He took no voice in increased commuter ferry service for Rockaway. He seldom mentioned Rockaway in his speeches. He had bigger fish to fry and he couldn't even control his own party majority.

He is a joke, and so are his colleagues. And, unfortunately for us, so is Governor David Paterson.

Smith is no longer the Majority Leader. That post fell to Pedro Espada, who is arguably one of the biggest crooks in the Senate.

Smith is now the President of the body, but has little actual power unless there is a tie vote, something unlikely to happen when virtually everybody votes along party lines.

A look at a recent Smith attempt to "rebrand" the Democrats and to increase the party's popularity among voters is instructive.

Amid the most severe fiscal crisis in recent memory and during a state hiring freeze, Smith has commissioned a newly-formed "creative services department" funded with $430,000 a year of your money.

The department is to be led not by a politician, but by a famed disc jockey, who will receive $120,000 a year to lead a team that will be tasked with nothing other than making the Democratic Majority look better to voters.

We wonder if Smith ever thought about what that money could have done had it been used for teen programs in Far Rockaway this summer.

Smith's spokesperson defended the expenditure, saying, that the DJ who leads the department "has been at the heart of our effort to improve communication with the public. He's opened doors to government for people who have been ignored for decades by a Republican Senate that didn't want the public to know what they were up to."

The man who penned that quote, Austin Shafran, the press secretary for the Democratic majority, earns $150,410 a year to make ludicrous statements such as that one.

Smith is not the only one spending your tax money on what can only be termed as superfluous personnel.

There is a new Senate secretary who earns $190,519 a year and two counsel to the majority who earn a total of more than $350,000, two special assistants who earn $166,453 each and various other expensive staffers just to service Democratic leaders.

Nineteen of the highest paid state staffers work not for the state, and not for you, but for the Democrats.

Then, there's Governor Paterson, a politician whose poll numbers are so low that even his friends have begun to write him off in the coming election.

One night, he's shot by a cameraman at living it up at a party at a chic Manhattan club, and the next day, the woman he's pictured with is a new $88,000 a year aide to the governor. You have to wonder in what area he is aiding him, especially in light of his past drug use and infidelities.

A Paterson spokesperson called the woman "a long-time friend." I can believe that.

Actually, the woman's job title is "deputy director for state and federal affairs," with many believing that "affairs" is the operative word.

Then, there's Pedro Espada, the new Senate Majority Leader, who went over to the dark side for a time and tied up the state government's business for more than a month.

He recently demanded a job for his son, and his son was immediately hired for a six-figure, no-show job. When the press pointed out how venal that was, Espada Jr. quickly resigned the position.

And, while the State Assembly stood aside from the Senate circus and watched the show as if its members were somehow immune to playing politics with our lives, the Assembly members are as guilty of allowing the state to become a national laughing stock, what with the absolute control of Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver and their acquiescence to the three men in a closed room method of making policy.

A recent Daily News editorial had it right.

"No Senator deserves a pass. Every one of them deserves a piece of the travesty. At one point or another, they all got into bed with Espada," the editorial said. "Nor do Assembly members get off the hook. They may have been out-clowned by the Senate this year, but only because they sheepishly succumb to the doctorial rule of Speaker Sheldon Silver. The veneer of calm and efficiency only masked anti-democratic dysfunction."

It is time for term limits. It is time to sweep all the members of the state legislature out of office.

In fact, it is way past the time for a new broom.

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