Foss: Government scandals sadly normal

Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks before getting a COVID-19 vaccine at a church in the Harlem neighborhood of New York, Wednesday.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks before getting a COVID-19 vaccine at a church in the Harlem neighborhood of New York, Wednesday.

Every once in a while I take a spin by the governor’s mansion in Albany, hoping for a glimpse of something out of the ordinary. 

Inevitably, I’m disappointed. 

The governor’s mansion has always been a sleepy place, and that remains true even as Gov. Andrew Cuomo fights for his political life. The building’s calm and stately exterior betrays little. You’d never guess at the turmoil roiling state government just from looking at it. 

Perhaps that’s to be expected. 

Political scandals are par for the course in New York, and the governor’s current troubles, while sensational and transfixing, are hardly unprecedented. 

Viewed in context, Cuomo’s collapse is simply the latest in a long line of embarrassing and destructive falls from grace, the most recent chapter in Albany’s Game of Thrones. 

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins acknowledged this sad reality earlier this week, when asked to comment on negotiating a state budget with a scandal-plagued governor.   “From the time I entered the Senate, I have not seen a normal year,” she said. “Every year has been different.” 

This observation isn’t wrong – our dysfunctional state government is, indeed, full of surprises – but it obscures how accustomed we’ve all grown to seeing our elected officials brought low by scandal. 

In New York, good governance isn’t the norm – it’s an aberration. 

What’s normal is the corruption, ethical lapses and questionable practices that have once again exposed state government is a place in urgent need of reform. 

Consider this rogue’s gallery of disgraced politicians: 

– Former Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who resigned 13 years ago this week in a prostitution scandal 

– Spitzer’s successor, former Gov. David Paterson, who abandoned his re-election bid in 2010 amid an outcry over his administration’s intervention in a domestic violence case involving a close aide. 

– Former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, convicted on federal corruption charges and now in prison 

– Former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, also convicted on federal corruption charges

– Former Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who resigned in 2018 after four women accused him of physical abuse

– Cuomo’s top aide, Joe Percoco, convicted in a federal bribery-scandal and sentenced to federal prison 

I could go on.

At this point, the constant drumbeat of scandal coming from state government inspires a certain world-weariness, a certain “I’ve seen this before” jadedness.  

Cuomo’s national profile, domineering personality and tight grip on power might make his downfall more dramatic and transfixing than most, but it’s not a new story.

If anything, it’s a reboot of an older, oft-told tale – one I’ve grown tired of hearing. 

The time has come to figure out how to break out of this endless cycle of political scandal and create a new political narrative. 

The Legislature must move swiftly to hold Cuomo accountable and investigate his misdeeds, but it also falls upon voters to say they’ve had enough. 

Our scandal-plagued state government might be normal. 

But it doesn’t have to be. 

Reach Sara Foss at [email protected] Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.

Categories: News, Opinion, Sara Foss

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