Watching the train wreck that passes for state government in New York is like watching sleazy reality TV — just when you think things couldn’t possibly get any more outrageous, they inevitably do.
The latest is the blatant corruption revealed in a stunning new report on this year’s initial selection of a bidder to redevelop Aqueduct Race Track. Unfortunately, as has been the case so often recently in the cesspool of Albany, officials from Queens are at the heart of the problem.
The report, issued by state Inspector General Joseph Fisch last Thursday, details how Aqueduct Entertainment Group, a consortium of operators revolving around the political powers that be in Jamaica and Brooklyn, nearly won the lucrative contract to recreate the dying Big A as a racino with limited casino-style electronic gaming.
AEG did that by essentially bribing officials with campaign donations and unfettered lobbying. In the end it was turned down by the state Lottery Division, but it was a photo finish, with the tainted firm scratched at the last moment. The contract then went to Genting New York, a subsidiary of a worldwide gambling conglomerate based in Asia, but not before competitors including an equally good American company with a stellar reputation in the industry, Wynn Resorts, were forced out by the sleaze surrounding AEG and its corrupt backers in the state capital.
When bureaucrats detailed each bidder’s good and bad points, top Democratic officials led by Sen. Malcolm Smith of Jamaica and Sen. John Sampson of Brooklyn ignored them. Instead the senators took $40,000 in campaign donations from members of the AEG group while passing them inside information. The corruption could hardly be more clear if surveillance video showed shady characters in trench coats slipping them cash-laden envelopes in exchange for state documents.
Running in gerrymandered districts where Republicans are an endangered species, Smith and Sampson will be re-elected easily on Nov. 2 despite this activity — though what they really should do is resign immediately.
As the corruption went on, the governor’s top aides left him uninformed about the problems surrounding AEG. Senate Republican calls for hearings were ignored. And Ozone Park’s lawmakers, Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. and Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer, both Democrats who reportedly preferred other bidders, failed to be assertive enough in warning that AEG was the wrong choice.
As Fisch said, “At each turn, our state leaders abdicated their public duty, failed to impose ethical restraints and focused on political gain at a cost of millions to New Yorkers. Shamefully, the public’s best interest was a matter of militant indifference to them.”
And Blair Horner, legislative director of the New York Public Interest Research Group, correctly added, “This report reveals Albany at its most sordid. Every New Yorker should be outraged. We urge the district attorney and U.S. attorney to move quickly on the IG’s findings of possible violations of the Public Officers Law.”
Those who corrupted the process must be prosecuted. Meanwhile the people of New York State should take the IG’s report as yet another reason to elect the most honest, independent candidates on the ballot. That starts with Andrew Cuomo for governor, Dan Donovan for state attorney general and Harry Wilson for comptroller. A new government split between the major parties, is our best hope to start reining in Albany’s corruption at last.
Criminal charges are for prosecutors to bring forward. Reform begins with we the people, on Election Day.