By Nick DAngelo
From its founding in 1786 until Franklin Roosevelt stripped it of federal patronage in 1933, the Tammany Society dominated New York politics.
As the strong arm of the Democrat Party, the organization was notorious for centuries as a corrupt and absolute power in securing political nominations and elections, most notably in New York City.
Last week, the “sick tiger,” as cartoonist Frederick Burr Opper termed the society in 1893, seemed to rise again in the alleged corruption scandal surrounding the 2013 New York mayoral election.
State Senator Malcolm Smith, a Democrat, and City Councilman Daniel Halloran, a Republican, were arrested along with four other individuals for attempting to rig the Republican nomination for mayor.
In New York, in order for a non-member of a party to run on the party line they must obtain a “Wilson Pakula” certificate authorizing it.
The allegations focus on Smith’s potential candidacy as a Republican in 2013, a candidacy that he appeared quite desperate to obtain. Halloran, charged with bribery, is alleged to be the middleman in the negotiations between Smith and borough party leaders (two of whom were of the four also arrested). The alleged scandal brings forth the centuries old concern of deep-rooted corruption among the upper echelons of political power.
Although Tammany Hall, perhaps the most infamous of power brokers, was long dead by the mid-20th century, the conspiracy theories of corruption certainly lived on. The 1960 presidential election has long been disputed as a corrupt race.
In the closest election of the century, John F. Kennedy defeated Richard M. Nixon by a mere 113,000 votes out of 68 million cast.
Historians point to Illinois, controlled by Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and Texas, a stronghold of vice presidential nominee Lyndon Johnson, as two areas where fraud may heeeave occurred.
Kennedy carried both states by slim margins, and the 51 electoral votes were just enough to give him a comfortable victory.
In the Golden Age of political corruption, the 1876 presidential election was simply stolen. While Democrat Samuel Tilden received a majority of the popular vote, with the Electoral College deadlocked, Republican Rutherford Hayes was hastily declared the winner in a political “compromise.”
In a Rasmussen poll conducted in February, survey participants ranked “Ethics and Corruption” as the third most important issue in our country, below only the economy and healthcare. It was tied with Social Security. Recognizing the problem exists is one thing, but are we doing enough to prevent its frequent recurrence?
In 2003, Los Angeles Times columnist John Balzar wrote a commentary, “Corruption Eats Like Rust Into America’s Mettle.” Mr. Balzar noted that in our previous worst-case era of decline, the Gilded Age (during which the infamous 1876 election occurred), Americans responded with the social cleansing of the Progressive movement. Of course, the shift from era to era took decades. Where do we currently stand in that cyclical transition, and how much longer must we wait?
For New York, it appears that we are at the desperate precipice of a period of reform. Just days after Smith and Halloran were arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, another sitting legislator, Assemblyman Eric Stevenson, was arrested for taking $20,000 in bribes.
According to a December tape obtained by the New York Daily News, the assemblyman referred to the excessive corruption in Albany directly when speaking to an informant, saying, “Bottom line…if half the people up here in Albany were ever caught for what they do…they…would probably be [in jail]. So who are they bullshitting?” Not U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. With a clear record of busting some of the biggest corruption scandals in New York since taking office in August 2009, Bharara has become our state’s new sheriff.
“This has become something of a habit,” he said after the second corruption scandal was unsealed last week. The effectiveness of Bharara’s office reinforces the hope of change on the horizon.
After all, we finally know about these scandals. The perpetrators are being caught, and our public officials are being held accountable. As always, pressure on those wielding political power must continue to be exerted. A nascent public is clearly the most susceptible to being used.
While officials like Bharara continue to do their job, our job as the public must be to send a clear message to our elected officials that we’re watching. During times like this, Carl Paladino’s 2010 promise to bring a baseball bat to Albany seems more and more appealing.