A high-ranking Democratic New York State senator was arrested on Tuesday and charged with trying to buy a place on the Republican ticket in the city's mayoral race, in what prosecutors said was part of a bribery scandal that reflected pervasive corruption in New York politics.
Five other politicians, three Republicans and two Democrats, were also arrested and charged with collectively accepting more than $100,000 in bribes in meetings that often took place in parked cars, hotel rooms and state offices, according to court papers.
Authorities described the scheme - potentially one of the biggest political scandals to hit New York in years - as an attempt to game the city's first wide-open mayoral election in more than a decade. New York will vote in November for a new mayor to replace Michael Bloomberg, whose third term wraps up at year's end.
The charges center on State Senator Malcolm Smith, a Democrat from Queens, who was widely considered a long-shot candidate for City Hall. Prosecutors say he made payments to a city councilman to set up meetings with top New York Republicans to assist in getting him on the mayoral ballot.
Smith and the councilman, Daniel Halloran, a Republican from Queens, were among the six politicians arrested on Tuesday morning.
Later on Tuesday, all six appeared in federal court in White Plains, and were ordered to post $250,000 in bail. They face charges including bribery, extortion, and wire and mail fraud.
"From time to time the question arises, how common is corruption in New York?" Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara told a news conference. "Based on the cases that we have brought and continue to bring, it seems downright pervasive."
And that's not the only one. Bronx Assemblyman Eric Stephenson was arrested for accepting $22,000 to help some businessmen by legislating out any potential competition for their adult day care centers. NYTimes' Gail Collins:
Our New York gang comes pretty cheap. Although perhaps it’s heartening to realize that America is still a country so filled with promise that even the chairman of the Bronx Republican Party can dream of one day being indicted for taking a $15,000 bribe. There are hardly any Republicans in the Bronx to chair — the party leader himself, who got the job when his predecessor went to the clink, actually lives someplace in the suburbs.
One of the stranger elements to the New York story was word that a Bronx assemblyman named Nelson Castro has been wearing a wire for the feds for virtually his entire political career. He originally got into trouble when election officials noticed nine voters were registered as living with him in his one-bedroom apartment. Unable to demonstrate how all that worked out, Castro agreed to cooperate with authorities and became the F.B.I.’s own social networking system. Nobody knows yet what else showed up on the Castro tapes, but the assemblyman announced his resignation this week, expressing pride “of my accomplishments and the many benefits that I have secured on behalf of my district over the last four years.”
So, here’s a hopeful thought: maybe you can hit a point of ethical bankruptcy where, for want of anybody else to sell out, all the plotters betray each other.
And while I applaud the rooting out of corruption, the point remains that this is small potatoes. While the US Attorneys bemoan the pervasive corruption of politicians (an inherently corrupting position) in New York state, we still have federal politicians who are legally grafting the system all over the country.