It's hardly a surprise that 58 percent of New Yorkers said their state government was "the worst" or "among the worst" in the country in a new Quinnipiac poll. The real shock was that 28 percent said it was "among the best." Perhaps instead of "New York state government" they heard "New York's great firmament," and thought they were applauding the topsoil.
The 2 percent who told Quinnipiac that New York has the "best" state government in the nation are easier to identify. I'm betting they're the state legislators' relatives - or at least the ones who are on the state payroll.
You may have heard the story about Pedro G. Espada, son of state Sen. Pedro Espada - the man who keeps changing parties and bringing majority control of the Senate along with him. When Sen. Espada switched back to the Democrats in July, Senate Democratic Conference Leader John Sampson celebrated his party's new opportunity to impose reform by hiring Pedro G. as the Senate's "deputy director of intergovernmental relations."
No one seems to know exactly what a deputy director of intergovernmental relations does, but it pays $120,000. And - here's the good news -- when Attorney General Andrew Cuomo announced that he was investigating whether the hiring was legal even by the state legislature's shaky standards, Pedro G. swiftly resigned. If any readers feel ready to assume the burdens of intergovernmentally relating, please contact John Sampson.
(Don't worry about the younger Espada. He's apparently gone back to his old $90,000 job as "director of environmental care" at the non-profit healthcare center in the Bronx run by his father. No further information was available on whether the job involves caring for the environment, teaching the environment to care for others, or just being an all-around caring guy of the green persuasion.)
Meanwhile, Danny Hakim of the New York Times uncovered another interesting twist in the Albany way of doing business. It turns out that some of the more veteran members of the legislature have taken advantage of a loophole in state law that allows them to retire for one day between terms of office, qualify for their legislative pension, and then come back on the payroll as elected double dippers.
For instance, Harvey Weisenberg, a 75-year-old Long Island Democrat, "retired" last year, put in for his $72,000 a year pension, and then miraculously returned to the fold the next day as a $101,500-a-year Assemblyman. The grand total of the cost of keeping Weisenberg in his part-time legislative job is now $173,500. Plus expenses.
"Double dipping? I don't see this as that. This is something I earned," Weisenberg told the Times. He should know, since as the Times noted, he was the chief sponsor of legislation "aimed at cracking down on double dipping by local governments."
The respondents in that Quinnipiac poll agreed by a 77-19 percent margin that New York's state government is "dysfunctional." That does suggest that some of the folks who felt we have one of the best governments in the nation are either confused or think "dysfunctional" is a synonym for "better-than-useful."
But what they probably suspect, and what all these other stories confirm, is that the worst news from Albany is that things are exactly what they seem. With the obvious exception of a virtuous minority, the people who serve are there out of greed, and greed of the most depressingly base nature. They may be voting about budgets, health care, civil rights, education. But their eyes are on the real prize behind Door Number One - an extra $50,000 here, a job for their brother there.
(The brightest bit of news from the folks at Quinnipiac was that only half of all New Yorkers said they felt "personally embarrassed" by the mess their elected officials had put the state in, compared to 65 percent of the people who felt that way in New Jersey.)
Last week, after his son was forced out of his exciting new career in intergovernmental relations, Sen. Espada told the Daily News that he was going to turn into a crusader against nepotism in high places. It was time, he said, for everyone to start "cutting out all the nonsense about relatives, girlfriends. It's over. It's over."
Not hardly. Not hardly.