New York’s ‘kissing Caligula’ might finally meet his political end. The sordid details give us a glimpse into the ugly side of our political system, but they also provide us with a lesson. Andrew Cuomos are everywhere.
Officials with near-absolute power are arguably becoming more prevalent, despite our Founders’ best efforts and intentions. Mr. Cuomo’s disgrace is a prime example of how politics, policy, media, and business intermingle in our system in a perverse dance that should make all of us squirm.
Mr. Cuomo’s arrogance of power has been tolerated if not enabled for decades. Sexual harassment is far from his first moral, ethical or legal challenge. Before these accusations, there was the Morland Commission scandal where Mr. Cuomo disbanded his own anti-corruption oversight committee. There was the Buffalo Billion scandal, where alleged payoffs and political favors resulted in massive government contracts. Then there was the “Ziti” scandal that saw Joe Percoco, Mr. Cuomo’s top lieutenant and closest personal friend, convicted of accepting more than $300,000 in bribes and sentenced to 6 years in prison.
Last year following his infamous nursing home order that contributed to the deaths of more than 10,000 people, the camera-loving Democrat Party scion even used his government staff to write a book touting his coronavirus response.
For decades, people have known that Mr. Cuomo is a fierce, hot-tempered, arrogant political operator willing to do anything or intimidate anyone to advance his purposes.
Elected officials, corporate executives, interest groups either feared or tolerated him. The public paid the price.
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A culture of corruption is created by misusing the levers of power. In New York, the governor’s power over the use of taxpayer resources is wielded like a sword to buy allegiance from political officials and businesses.
Central to this is the governor’s control over public authorities. These massive taxpayer-funded agencies dole out millions of dollars in many cases at the governor’s discretion.
For example, the State Dormitory Authority is a massive slush fund that doles out nearly $350 million in grants annually. Those resources fund legislators and the governor’s pet projects across the state.
Another massive agency, Empire State Development, can borrow money and provide cash payments to politically favored businesses and industries. ESD offered Amazon a half-billion-dollar incentive package at the governor’s direction in Mr. Cuomo’s failed effort to lure them to Queens in 2019.
These payoffs create enormous political leverage and help fill campaign coffers, increasing the governor’s near political invincibility. Despite all the scandals, Andrew Cuomo is still sitting on nearly $20 million in campaign cash.
The lack of term limits in the New York State government and a one-party rule culture combine to create an atmosphere where there is virtually no threat of accountability. Officials push the ethical envelope because they believe nobody is watching.
For those of you who might be thinking that these are blue state problems, guess again. This arrogance of power can come to exist anywhere. No political party has a monopoly on corruption.
Whether it’s the public employee unions, who have manufactured a protected political class of deep staters, or elected officials who have wielded near-absolute power, there are Cuomos in every state. Those Lilliputians of morality who like the game of politics too much, who are willing to exploit the public’s trust for personal gain, and who behave as though they’re too big to fall.
They are usually the biggest purveyors of bad policy and inefficient, ineffective government. The New York State budget grew by $100 billion during Mr. Cuomo’s time in office.
We have a duty to try to stop America’s Cuomos before they hijack the system. We must set conditions that promote transparency and accountability. Addressing this threat to democracy is one of the great causes of our time and the real lesson from Mr. Cuomo’s fall from grace. The corrupt, autocratic, and narcissistic rarely surrender their power or just fade away.
• Tom Basile, host of Newsmax Television’s “America Right Now,” is an author and adjunct professor at Fordham University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, where he teaches earned media strategy.