It seemed, for a short while, that somebody might actually be doing something to shake up the status quo in Albany.
For a few days, it appeared that the minority leader of the State Senate, David Paterson of Manhattan, was taking decisive and completely justifiable actions against the erratic Senator Ada L. Smith of Queens. Stories of her bad behavior are part of Albany legend, although perhaps not the sort of thing that might make it into a William Kennedy novel.
There was the time when the distinguished Senator allegedly bit a police officer who was trying to arrest her during a traffic dispute. There was the time she was accused of using a meat cleaver to threaten an aide who had said something about the Senator’s use of medications. And who can forget the time she sped through a security checkpoint in Albany?
Ah, that Senator Smith-what a character.
Well, even in Albany there’s a limit to the amount of havoc one politician can commit without suffering some sort of penalty. And the majority leader of the State Senate, Republican Joseph Bruno, figured that now was the time for Senator Smith to learn the error of her ways. He went to Senator Paterson, a Democrat like Senator Smith, and recommended that something be done.
Senator Paterson rightly stripped Senator Smith of her leadership post-yes, amazingly enough, she is not only a Senator, but she holds a position of additional authority in that great lawmaking body. She bore the proud title of chairwoman of the Senate’s Democratic Caucus. This entitled her to an extra $16,500 in her annual salary and a state-supplied automobile.
It turns out that Senator Paterson’s seemingly bold action was nothing of the sort. Senator Smith is still receiving her extra stipend and still has her state car, because instead of being stripped of her leadership post, she was simply given a different title.
That’ll show her! Just let her try biting another cop, or ramming her way through another security checkpoint. Why, if she does that again, Senator Paterson might very well take further action. He might-well, he just might make her stand in the corner for a minute.
It is astonishing to watch these goings-on in Albany-where, by the way, Governor George Pataki, Mr. Bruno and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver have yet to agree on this year’s state budget, which was due on April 1. So weak and mediocre are the state’s leading politicians-one dare not use the word “leaders” in this context-that somebody like Senator Smith remains essentially unpunished for offenses that surely would have led to a stretch in the cooler for most of us.
Senator Paterson would have us believe that his actions in the Smith case have sent a message. They have-but perhaps not the message Senator Paterson intended.
City Council Plays Dumb
What’s going on in Gifford Miller’s City Council?
The latest news from that often-troubled chamber involves Queens City Councilman Allan W. Jennings Jr. According to the city’s Board of Elections, almost half of the signatures on Mr. Jennings’ nominating petition to retain his post as a Democratic Party district leader were invalid, and he may not be allowed to run for the position in the September primary. Word of the tainted petition surfaced just a day before the Council’s Committee on Standards and Ethics was to hold hearings on a previous matter involving Councilman Jennings. Yes, if his name rings a bell, that’s because Mr. Jennings is a repeat offender: He’s under investigation for allegations that he sexually harassed female staffers, including a Council lawyer, Saphora Lifrak, who filed a suit earlier this year. She also claimed that Speaker Miller ignored her allegations for several months before ordering an investigation into Mr. Jennings’ conduct. Mr. Jennings has denied the sexual-harassment charges, and Mr. Miller denies that he turned a deaf ear to Ms. Lifrak.
It’s outrageous that Mr. Miller and the Council have lacked the courage even to censure Mr. Jennings. Mr. Miller learned of Ms. Lifrak’s sexual-harassment complaint in the summer of 2002; two other women filed complaints with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in December 2003. But the Speaker and the Council have been muddling through an internal investigation, behind closed doors, allowing Mr. Jennings to continue to serve without penalty.
In the case of the nominating petition, the Board of Elections found that 109 of the signatures that Mr. Jennings submitted were from people not registered to vote; 68 signatures were from people who had signed a petition for a competing candidate; and 26 were from people not enrolled in the Democratic Party. What’s next, signatures from the recently deceased? Given that Mr. Jennings has held the district leader’s job for 12 years, it’s startling that he thought he could get away with such a ploy.
The district attorney’s office should look into the apparent fraud surrounding the nominating petition. Meanwhile, Gifford Miller and the City Council continue to exhibit a stunning dereliction of duty and leadership.
The Mayor in Haiti
New York City has a large Haitian population, and in late July, Mayor Michael Bloomberg flew to Haiti to see in person the poverty and despair that characterize that nation. Accompanying him were Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott, the Reverend Dr. Philius Nicholas of a Haitian church in Flatbush and Joseph Bruno, the head of the city’s Office of Emergency Management. In Port-au-Prince, the Mayor met with President Boniface Alexander and had lunch with Prime Minister Gerard Latortue.
Haiti is highly unstable at the moment and not a hospitable place to visit; the Mayor made the trip at significant personal risk. A U.S. Marine was recently killed by a gang in Port-Au-Prince, and the country’s slums are policed by officers with submachine guns. At one point, a thrown rock cracked the window of a car in the Mayor’s motorcade.
Eighty percent of Haitians live in severe poverty, and the average life expectancy is 52 years. After the short but intense visit, the Mayor was visibly shaken. “I had read and I had been told of the problems that many people in Haiti have,” he said. “But no matter how much you prepare yourself, you can’t understand their pain and suffering until you see it yourself in their faces.” Mr. Bloomberg donated a New York City ambulance to Haiti’s main public hospital and pledged to send emergency medical teams to the country to lend technical assistance.
The Mayor deserves praise for making a trip that many politicians would have avoided.