By Mark Scheer
Niagara Gazette — Gov. Andrew Cuomo called it “the great riddle.”
He was referring, of course, to the penchant for elected officials, those in Albany in particular, to get involved in criminal activity while in office.
“I’d like to say that I think this is going to be the last one and it will never happen again, but I don’t believe that’s true,” Cuomo said following the filing of charges against State Sen. Malcolm Smith, D-Queens, who has been implicated in what prosecutors are calling a bribery scheme tied to the race for New York City mayor. “People do stupid things, frankly. People in power abuse power and that’s part of the human condition.”
Cuomo’s last point is correct. It is part of the human condition to both do stupid things and abuse power.
This is why it is so important to cut people off before they get a chance to go full-out dumb or full-on corrupt.
In the wake of the Smith scandal, Cuomo and others have, once again, discussed the need for more reform measures, a better system of rules capable of keeping elected officials on straighter paths.
The problem is they won’t go where they really need to go.
It’s no riddle, governor.
Addressing corruption requires two rather simple steps: Impose term limits and treat offenders like the criminals they are.
In my time at the Gazette, I’ve heard countless candidates say, once elected, they’ll push for term limits in New York.
Voters are still waiting.
If the country is smart enough to restrict its top elected official — the president of the United States — to just eight years in office, why are Albany politicians allowed to serve as many terms as they can win?
The longer a person stays in office the more likely they are to be seduced by the largess that comes with the job — the lobbyists, the corporate dollars, the special interests, the campaign donations and, yes, even the bribes.
Limiting the length of time a person can serve would go a long way toward eliminating their ability to cultivate questionable dealings and relationships.
Take the “career” away from career politicians and you’ll be giving them less time, and therefore less opportunity, to make mischief.
As for punishments, let’s just say there are numerous rules and laws on the books right now — state elections laws, lobbying rules, etc. They are all designed to curb inappropriate behaviors and yet the nonsense continues.
The fear of the consequences is just not great enough.
In recent weeks, Western New Yorkers learned the fate of a former New York state trooper who was accused of promoting prostitution.
This individual — a man who swore to uphold the law and protect the public’s best interests — was sentenced to serve three years probation and to perform 300 hours of community service.
A certain former New York state governor who also had dealings with prostitutes might make for a better example here.
The point is the mandatory minimum sentences for people holding certain positions of standing within government should be higher.
Police officers, judges and, yes, elected officials, face tougher sentences because they not only committed crimes, but breached the public’s trust in the process.
They swear under oath to uphold the law and protect the interests of those they serve.
When they don’t, they should go to jail for it.
A lot of politicians will tell you harsher sentences deter crime.
Maybe then the “great riddle” of corruption will finally be solved. Contact City Editor Mark Scheer at 282-2311, ext. 2250