John L. Sampson, a New York senator from Brooklyn, Monday become the 32nd member of the state Legislature to be accused of corruption when federal prosecutors arrested him. Mr. Sampson was elected leader of the Democrats in the Senate in 2009, a job he held until December of last year. Since he joined the Senate, scandal has followed his political career.
This time federal investigators said Mr. Sampson, who was acting as a referee in the sale of foreclosed properties, embezzled $440,000 to be used in a failed run for Brooklyn district attorney in 2005. An interesting juxtaposition stealing money to be elected the chief law enforcement officer in Brooklyn.
Mr. Sampson is yet another embarrassment to the Senate and New Yorks government. It seems that leaders in the Senate have proven they are only adept at stealing money and using their influence for misbegotten deeds. As this rampant illegality has flourished, New Yorkers are plagued with an underperforming state economy, high unemployment, out-migration, higher taxes and a frustrating litany of promises of reform leading nowhere.
At the core of these issues is the unassailable position senators and members of the Assembly have earned in the Legislature, where handpicked candidates are re-elected time and again in legislative districts drawn to protect incumbents and the power brokers who treat the officeholders as marionettes.
New York has spent generations cleansing itself of corrupt political, government and criminal officials. In the late 1800s Boss Tweed was brought to his knees for influence peddling and corruption. In the 1930s Fiorello H. LaGuardia ousted the powerful Tammany Hall political machine and reformed the civil service to reduce patronage as a requirement for a job with the city.
In the 1940s Thomas E. Dewey as Manhattan district attorney attacked organized crime in the city and won such popularity he became governor and created the state university system.
Unfortunately New York has a sordid history of political corruption. Fortunately New York has been home to several vigorous prosecutors, who used the power of their offices to indict and try the corrupt, ousting them from office.
The FBI and the U.S. attorneys offices in New York have taken on the task of cleaning up the political power structure of Albany. Aggressive investigation and vigorous prosecution should slow the rampant epidemic of pay-to-play politics in the Legislature. But more action is needed.
Until New York state cleans up the process of determining legislative districts, sleazy, corrupt politicians will be able to win elections by appealing to fringe elements during party primaries, thus earning a free ride in the general election. Until the election process encourages honest reformers to run for office, it will be left to the U.S. attorney to be the sheriff of the Legislature.