By George Capsis
In 1959, Manhattan Borough President, Hulan Jack, the first African American to hold a major political office in New York City made the Times when he allowed a real estate developer friend, Sidney Unger to pay a bill for $4,400 for the renovation of Jack’s apartment.
My somewhat cynical reaction then was that African American’s had indeed arrived if they felt comfortable enough to go on the take along with all their white political colleagues.
How far we have come can be measured by the lengthy Times accounting of fourteen years of expense account padding by African American state Assemblyman Carl E. Heastie as he takes over as Speaker, replacing Sheldon Silver, who is accused of stealing four million dollars. I mean this is a full-page article with sordid little details like his hiring his girlfriends for little make-believe jobs.
The irony is then when Heastie took over, he pledged to restore trust in Albany by enacting ethics reform, but as the Times offers “he has frequently used political donations to burnish his lifestyle”.
In order to sift out the expense account cheats, the Moreland Commission identified twenty-eight lawmakers who had spent $10,000 or more over a six year period without identifying a recipient or in cases where the amounts were under $50—which do not require itemization under state law. Heastie came out ten times above the Commission threshold at $97,910.
Elected politicians today have two revenue streams: campaign donations and the expenses account. Heastie seems to benefit by billing both for, gulp, the same expenditures—his campaign fund repairs his BMW and the state pays for gas, insurance and for repairs (let us hope these are not the same repairs he billed to his campaign fund.)
As an Assemblyman, Heastie earned only $93,500 with no other source of income other than cheating on his expense account.
By the standards set by Silver and Skelos, he is stealing on a modest scale. But personal dishonesty is not preparation for objective legislation.