The arrests last week of Malcolm Smith, a leader of the State Senate, and Dan Halloran, a New York City councilman, along with political leaders in Queens and the Bronx, make it tempting to think that corruption dwells west of us; that Nassau County, for all its faults, is not tainted by big-city dirty dealings.
The charges against these pols involve giving and getting money for personal gain — in this case, conspiring to get Smith, a Democrat from Queens, on the Republican ballot in this year’s city mayoral race. In other charges related to Smith, the mayor and deputy mayor of Spring Valley, in Rockland County, allegedly planned to divert a half million dollars in state transportation funds for a real estate deal.
We would be wrong to think this is only about the polluted politics of the city. Less than three years ago, Roger Corbin, a former Nassau County legislator, was sentenced to 18 months in prison after pleading guilty to tax evasion, filing false federal tax returns for three years and making false statements to the FBI and the IRS. Statewide, according to data compiled by Citizens Union, a government watchdog organization, one of every 11 state legislators — 17 of 185 — who left office between 1999 and 2010 did so because of ethical misconduct or criminal charges.
The poet John Keats wrote, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty — that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” Too often, politicians seem to live by a different aphorism: Money is power, power money — that is all we know, and all we need to know.