Albany Times Union: Another state senator is heading to prison, but will it shape the next elections cycle?
Republicans are certainly claiming the sudden resignation of Sen. Carl Kruger, a Brooklyn Democrat who pleaded guilty this week to accepting bribes in return for official favors, will help their efforts to keep control of the legislative chamber even in deep blue New York…
…For Republicans, who have also had members fall to federal prosecutors, Kruger is not just an albatross, but more evidence in a narrative of Democratic dysfunction. They'll contrast their accomplishments this year as the majority, when they played ball with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, even somersaulting on taxes this month to back a Cuomo-brokered restructuring, to the turmoil of 2009 and 2010, when Democrats were in control.
"This is the latest in a series of ethical and fiscal missteps that show Democrats haven't learned any lessons from their two disastrous years in the majority," said Scott Reif, a spokesman for Senate Republicans.
City Hall News: John Sampson – The state Senate minority leader took another hit over his questionable pick for the new state ethics commission, Ravi Batra, when it was revealed that the two had an undisclosed business connection. Soon after, the guilty plea by Sen. Carl Kruger once again tarnished Sampson’s Democratic caucus. And now, Sampson’s Republican adversaries are feeling energized as they prepare to mount a strong campaign to steal Kruger’s old seat.
Back in the ancient days of March, when Carl Kruger was indicated, State GOP Chair Fast Eddie Cox was heard to opine that Albany corruption is “definitely a Democratic problem.” Called on the matter of Joe Bruno, Cox alluded to problems with the constitutionality of Bruno’s conviction.
But, as Jim Dwyer has noted, the problems with the Joe Bruno (whose conviction is on appeal) and the culture which he still embodies, are not merely about allegations of illegality (upon which, as always, I will refrain from comment), but about the crimes which have been found to be legal, and the press's insane coverage of them.
JIM DWYER: …In the Senate, thanks to this tax-financed payroll, Mr. Bruno had hot-and-cold-running lawyers, drivers, secretaries, gofers.
Meanwhile, he also ran a private consulting business out of his office suite in the Capitol. The people who employed him sent his personal paychecks directly to his government office. So the $100,000-a-year secretary on the public payroll took care of $3.2 million in personal checks paid to Mr. Bruno, and all the attendant paperwork. The lawyers on that same public payroll had to meet with Mr. Bruno’s clients. All this has emerged at a federal trial under way in Albany.
The court case may describe crimes, or lawful greed or, as Mr. Bruno maintains, the ordinary, ethical practice of a part-time legislator, full-time businessman. Yet the Bruno story is about more than a trial, and more than one man’s lack of boundaries.
As a legislator, Mr. Bruno led a party that is in the minority in New York State but was in the majority in the State Senate, weaving the protective web of incumbency and gerrymandering. Major banks paid to keep Mr. Bruno and his people in place, casually writing checks of $50,000 or so for seasonal campaign galas. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg transferred hundreds of thousands of dollars from his personal fortune to Bruno-run political funds, hoping to fortify Mr. Bruno’s shaky hold on power.
And two years ago, when the public was afforded a glimpse of Mr. Bruno’s sense of entitlement — he was being flown in state helicopters to political fund-raisers and meetings at racetracks — nearly all of Albany rose to his defense.
Like a few other senior public officials, Mr. Bruno could whistle up a state helicopter and State Police pilots pretty much anytime he wanted. In 2007, the logs of these trips were requested under the Freedom of Information Law by James Odato, a reporter with The Times Union of Albany. Drawing on the records, the paper published an article about Mr. Bruno’s frequent use of the helicopters when he had political fund-raisers and about police drivers taking him around when he landed.
At first, the story had a modest impact. Then Mr. Bruno complained he was the victim of police surveillance. A series of articles and editorials in The New York Post took up the theme that the revelations about Mr. Bruno’s travels were an evisceration of his civil liberties that bordered on Stalinism.
After all, who would want to live in a country where a politician can’t command state helicopters and police for what are essentially political fund-raising junkets?
Finally, the state’s attorney general, Andrew M. Cuomo, began an investigation. His report quickly disposed of any questions about the legitimacy of Mr. Bruno’s helicopter travels; under the rules in place, even a modest fig leaf of official business could justify them. The vast bulk of Mr. Cuomo’s report was devoted to the question of how the Bruno flight logs were disclosed. It turns out, unsurprisingly, that they were leaked by the office of Mr. Bruno’s bitter adversary, Eliot Spitzer, who was then governor. The governor’s staff pretty much issued a gold-plated invitation to the Times Union reporter to ask for the documents.
So The Times Union was cast as a stooge for reporting the information about the trips. Now, though, with the hindsight about Mr. Bruno’s sense of entitlement afforded by the federal trial, the helicopter saga is particularly revealing. The scandal was defined not as the possible abuse of public resources by Mr. Bruno, but as malignant leaks by the governor’s office. The truth of the matter was not the problem, but telling the truth was."
Of course, as always, I made many of these points far, far earlier.
Mr. Bruno was the architect of a completely corrupt, but thoroughly legal system, which robbed the voters of the state not only of their tax revenues and the benefits for which they were supposed to pay, but of democracy itself in any meaningful form. The fact that he may or may not have attempted to enrich himself (whether in a legal manner, or not) is almost incidental.
It is a system so replete with Bruno’s fingerprints that he can be personally found at the roots of what was possibly (at least until the Kruger indictment), the rankest stench involving the Senate Democrats.
After all, it was not John “Nucky” Sampson who put into place the process for choosing which lucky company would get to implement “Racetrack Empire.”
It was “Commodore” Joe Bruno.
And, just to be clear, the depraved culture and unchecked power of the Senate’s Republican Conference Mr. Bruno led also gave birth to other convictions including departed Senator turned almost County Executive Vincent Leibell, and the late and the late and unlamented Lucchese soldier, Guy Velella (Senator Kruger only lived in ”Gaspipe” Casso’s house; Mr. Velella seems to have supped at the Lucchese Family table).
And, it should also be noted that the shakedowns which are technically legal continue, unabated.
But the problem with Republicans calling Kruger a specifically Democratic problems is more than a just a systemic one.
Yes, Kruger was a problem, but I would argue that he was a problem largely enabled by Republicans.
Let us review.
As I first noted in 2007, the Senate’s Republican Majority should be toast in the long term, and no one knows it better than they do. Their once robust majority has gradually evolved into a naturally occurring retirement community of old men sadly serving out terms of life imprisonment without parole on their way to the elephant’s graveyard.
It survives in a hothouse environment supported by the artificial sunlight of member items, “member services”, legislation sold to the highest bidder, malapportionment and inertia; its greatest enemies are actuarial tables and changing demographics.
The Republicans know this, but have a plan to deal with the problem which has gradually evolved over the last decade or so:
Run 'em as Dems, keep em as Dems, but have their votes to organize the Senate if the Dems ever take the majority.
Back in 2007, I gave it a name.
"The Kruger Plan".
The facts are simple. The Senate Republican majority is doomed in the long-term unless they find a way to corral some non-Republicans into either switching parties or voting with them to organize. This was their long-range strategy for many years. They find "Democrats In Name Only" and run them in prohibitively Democratic districts, so they can hold them in reserve in case the Dems ever take the majority.
Back in 2007, I gave twelve examples of this; four of them were Carl Kruger, Pedro Espada, Ruben Diaz and Hiram Monserrate (these day’s they’ve upgraded to a 2011 model Klavino).
Here is my line about Kruger:
“Example #11: Carl Kruger; already bought and paid for, many times over, but like a case of the clap, or Nancy Larraine Hoffman, Kruger is the gift that keeps on giving. Worth an article all his own; will get one soon.”
As I’ve documented, a race in 2002 set new precedents for how far Joe Bruno could go in buying off local Democratic party officials, with no one taking any steps to enforce discipline. This was the race where incumbent Vinnie Gentile’s district was decimated in reapportionment, as the Republicans prepared to beat him with Bay Ridge Councilman Marty Golden.
The 2002 race where Golden won election was an historical landmark. It was nothing new for Brooklyn Democrats to endorse Republicans for President, Governor and Mayor, but never had Brooklyn Dems jumped ship, en masse, to desert a local incumbent. Nonetheless, one had to forgive them, for they only gave up their support after hours of torture being forced to contemplate huge piles of cash, pork and patronage.
Five members of the Democratic State Committee jumped ship, as did an incumbent Councilmen, Assemblyman and, incredibly, a Democratic State Senator.
That Senator was Carl Kruger, and he brought along with him such allies as the Garson Crime Family (whose membership at one point had a husband on Kruger’s staff and a wife on Golden’s) and Bruce Ratner’s consigliore Bruce Bender (a figure in the Kruger indictment).
Kruger pretty much ran Golden’s campaign and elected him to the Senate.
As I noted in Part One, from 2002, onward, Kruger was a virtual member of the Republican Conference, basically getting serviced out of their allocations for any shortfalls in staff or member items, and getting some of his bills passed without David Paterson or Malcolm Smith having to beg for it. They even stopped running candidates against him and sometimes even gave him their line.
Then, in 2007, he upped the ante.
Eliot Spitzer and Malcolm Smith were working assiduously to get two Republican to vote with the Democrats to reorganize. They needed two to jump at once, because no one wanted to do it alone.
The more credible it was that the majority would changes hands, the more likely Republicans would have been to jump, and things looked excellent.
Until Carl Kruger saved Joe Bruno‘s hide.
In a brilliantly executed coup de grace, Bruno brutally forced Kruger to accept appointment to the Chairmanship of the Senate’s Social Service Committee by holding a $12,500 a year check to his throat (The threats of extra staff and member items caused additional hyperventilating) .
By accepting this position, Kruger allowed Bruno to send his conference a powerful message:
“Don't bother jumping ship; I have Democratic votes, and you'll end up in the minority.”
Kruger had taken the wind out of Smith's sails, and he got a prize for it.
As I’ve noted, this was the beginning of the end for Spitzer. Kruger had blown his best shot at turning the Senate, and with it, his best opportunity for enacting his reform agenda.
As documented by Lloyd Constantine, the failed effort to turn the Senate was the beginning of the end, as Spitzer’s efforts became more and more desperate. There was Choppergate, and an effort to get the Sen Dems to complain about Bruno to the IRS (which Kruger dropped the dime about).
If one is to believe Constantine, the despondency over Bruno is what led to the prostitutes. Spitzer, already softened by Choppergate, could not survive another scandal.
All traceable in its way to Carl Kruger.
We should also note Kruger’s role in facilitating Joe Bruno’s crucial relationship with the repulsive Independence Party.
So overcome was Kruger by his hyperventilating over Bruno’s money, that Bruno got Kruger to hide Independence Party Vice Chair Tom Connolly on his payroll.
It was a truly emblematic illustration of how the Albany bi-partisan ruling establishment really works.
In 2006, facing an imminent Spitzer-Hilary blowout of monumental proportions, Bruno was worried that not even the reliable incompetence of David Paterson and friends could save his party from the unhappy accident of voters starting at Spitzer and voting straight down the line.
But thanks to the IP, there existed a ballot line where a voter could cast their votes for Spitzer and Hillary, and then continue down the line and be able to support every single solitary Senate Republican whose existence might be threatened by a Democratic landslide, as well as every Senate Republican candidate who has even a theoretical chance of taking a Democratic seat.
That year, the Independence Party has become Joe Bruno’s trump card; a wholly owned subsidiary of the Republican State Senate Campaign Committee (RSSCC), essentially run out of the RSSCC offices, providing Republicans with life jackets to save them from the likely Democratic tsunami.
And it worked. At least one Republican seat (Serph Maltese’s) was saved by the IP line.
And Carl Kruger was now helping Joe Bruno to continue making it happen.
Then in early 2008, when a Special election enabled the Democrats to go after a seat in the North Country, litigation ensued over the IP line. Representing the interests of the pro-GOP Connolly faction (whose leader was ensconced on Kruger’s payroll) was Kruger’s Counsel.
After the fall of Spitzer, Kruger pretty much continued to function as a member of the Republican Conference, up until the point where the Senate became Democratic by one vote.
Kruger then set up the “Amigos,” using his balance of power to throw the Senate into chaos until he became Chair of the Finance Committee.
Extortion, pure and simple. Something Kruger also faced trial (something Kruger also faced trial for in the early 1980s)
Later, the next summer, when Amigos Pedro Espada and Hiram Monserrate attempted to repeat the trick, Kruger basically served as their negotiator with the Senate Democrats, helping to make Espada the Majority Leader.
As I’ve noted, the whole two act fiasco was perhaps the greatest New York political disgrace of our lifetime, and Carl Kruger was pretty much the ring master of that three wing flea circus.
During the 2010 primary cycle, I compiled my pieces documenting the really ugly history of the Amigos into one really long piece, so I will gloss over most of those details, and just refer you there.
Suffice it to say, that Republican cooperation with, and enabling and enhancing the power of Carl Kruger is all over that story like stink upon shit.
However, it does bear pointing out that, when Fast Eddie Cox cited examples of why Albany corruption was a Democratic problem, he also cited the example of Pedro Espada.
Espada had his own checkered history of sordid dealing with Joe Bruno, going back to the time he actually became a member of Bruno’s conference. To return to the list referenced earlier:
“Example #3: Get Pedro Espada to change parties while maintaining his Democratic enrollment so he can still run in the Democratic Primary. The Democrats actually stopped this one by beating Bruno at his own game by running DINO Ruben Diaz. Diaz, Espada; both have Jewish messiahs, but one follows Jesus and the other Fred Newman.”
And the low point of the Amigo adventures was when Dean Skelos nearly succeed in making Espada President Pro Tempore of the State Senate, just one heartbeat away from a Governorship held by a blind man with drug issues.
(For more details about the Senate Republicans' sordid dealings enabling Espada, see this Tom Robbins article from the Post)
And, during that entire fiasco, Dean Skelos was willing to give into extortionists to gain power, he was willing to paralyze the State to keep power, and he ultimately rejected bi-partisan power sharing as a solution to the mess he‘d gotten us into.
Unwilling to share power, Skelos ended up with none of it, which was surely an appropriate sentence he deserved to keep serving, and would have, but for the avarice and idiocy of his opposition, which, in itself, was enabled by the juicy pots of money like “Racetrack Empire,” left lying within temptation’s reach by Joe Bruno.
If Kruger and Espada embody Albany corruption, then it can be fairly said that they embody a problem which is at least as much a Republican problem as a Democratic one, and arguably even more so.
Ironically though, the biggest Republican hypocrite is not Cox or any other Republican who spoke out for Kruger’s resignation, but one who didn’t.
As I’ve noted before, on December 19, 2009, then State Senator-Elect Hiram Montserrat (Amigo-Hell) was arrested and charged with assault.
Three days later, State Senator Marty Golden introduced a Resolution asking Monserrate not to file the papers allowing him to assume his seat until the charges against him were resolved. Golden could not, at that juncture, ask Monserrate to resign, as, except for his City Council seat, which he was already vacating, Monserrate had nothing to resign from.
There is little doubt that if Monserrate was already a Senator, Golden would have asked that he resign, or recuse himself from his duties, since Golden’s resolution was a de facto call for, depending on how one interprets it, either one or the other.
At the time, cynics like me noted the proximity between Golden’s call for Monserrate not to be seated and the potential such non-seating would create for a deadlock in the ability of the Senate to organize itself, and also noted Monserrate’s then-recent departure from an effort by the Amigos to rent themselves to the Senate’s highest bidder.
Golden said his proposal would be in Monserrate's "own best interests, and the best interests of the people of this state," noting that "the last thing the people of the city and state of New York want to see is someone sitting in the Senate who is accused of committing such a serious crime.”
As Liz Benjamin then noted, during Golden’s first term as Senator, his colleague, Senator Velella had not merely been arrested, but also indicted, in connection with “a cash for contracts bribery scheme.” Velella, as I’ve noted, subsequently took a guilty plea.
As Benjamin noted, Golden also did not make such a call after the 2006 indictment of Senate Democrat Efrain Gonzalez for using money from taxpayer-funded member items, meant for public purposes, for his own personal benefit. Of course, back then, control of the State Senate did not lie in the balance, and Gonzalez himself was among the Senate Democrats most willing to do business with the Republicans.
I’ll add that Golden also made no such call concerning Democratic Assemblyman Tony “DINO” Seminerio, a big supporter of defeated Republican Senator Serf Maltese (who Golden was assigned to in the Republican Conference’s buddy system–Golden was seen on election day leaving tins of cookies, labeled “Complements of Senator Serf Maltese,” on the tables where voters were required to sign in, thereby giving the electorate a last minute subliminal message otherwise prohibited by statute).
Benjamin asked Golden what the difference was between the cases of Monserrate, Velella and Gonzalez that merited Monserrate being treated differently than the other two. Golden responded incoherently:
"Corruption is not tolerable; bribery is not tolerable…If you're guilty and you commit acts of bribery and corruption, you should go to jail. Someone should have put a bill forward then…Those are different crimes. Are they equally bad or worse? Not worse, but bad. This is a physical, violent, B felony. It's totally different. I'm moving against this because this is an act I believe is intolerable, and sends a signal across the state"
But Golden had it exactly backwards.
Golden was correct that “those are different crimes.” As Golden implied, while dissembling to create the appearance of saying the opposite, Second Degree Assault is probably a crime of greater magnitude than garden variety political sleaze.
But, in the absence of a conviction, it seems to me that the anathema against "someone sitting in the Senate who is accused of committing such a serious crime,” is more appropriately invoked against those whose presence casts doubt upon the integrity of the body and its dealings (say, by their taint leading to doubts about the appropriateness of every member’s budget items), rather than at those members whose disgraces (if indeed they qualify as such—there had been no trial at the time), however repugnant, are entirely unrelated to their duties of office.
And anyway, I don’t recall Golden asking that similar treatment be afforded to former GOP Councilman Dennis Gallagher, after Gallagher was charged with rape (after his indictment, Gallagher was removed from his committees and leadership positions, but was allowed to remain a member of the Council and was not forbidden to participate in its deliberations.
This isn’t rocket science; surely Golden understood and still understands that the distinction between crimes of violence and crimes of corruption cuts in exactly the opposite direction from the one he articulated.
Strangely, when the Republicans actually took tentative control of the Senate with Monserrate’s help, Golden’s resolution to unseat him failed to see the light of day.
But with Kruger’s indictment Marty Golden raised situational ethic to a new low (and yes, I know I sound like Yogi Berra), as his response to Republican calls for the resignation of a Democratic senator charged with a felony was stunned silence.
It only took three days for Golden to act on Monserrate. At the time, Monserrate had yet to be indicted. Monserrate had not yet been charged with any crime relating to the duties of his office (those did not come until he left the Senate involuntarily, and even then concerned his activities at the Council).
So, Golden’s call for recusal, except perhaps as it related to provisions of the Penal Law concerning Assault, made no sense whatsoever, except perhaps as a way to generate himself cheap publicity.
As I think I‘ve made clear, I don’t think Elected or Party officials should be calling upon elected officials charged with crimes to resign. I have an aversion to joining everyone else in playing “Johnny-on-a-pony” and treating those who are down as a piñata.
Perhaps it’s my contrarian personality, but I yield to no one in my respect for the presumption of innocence.
Yes, I can hardly disagree that the standards the justice system maintains concerning the burden of proof for criminal liability may not necessarily be the same as each individual voter’s standards for fitness to hold public office.
Voters in districts with elected official in trouble with the law sometimes get the opportunity to judge them in a trial we call democracy, where the standard for punishment is somewhat less stringent than guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. But, pending disposition of the criminal charges or an election, guilt beyond a reasonable doubt would seem to be the operative standard for the removal of such an elected.
Anyway, on March 10, State Senator Carl Kruger, who, as we know, helped to elect Golden, surrendered himself to the authorities for charges involving his official duties.
As I’ve already said, I do not believe that elected officials should call upon people in Kruger’s situation to resign (although case by case recusals on votes, and prophylactic prohibitions on holding certain internal positions within the Senate or the Democratic Conference were well justified).
However, as I’ve made clear, this was not Marty Golden’s position. As he said:
"the last thing the people of the city and state of New York want to see is someone sitting in the Senate who is accused of committing such a serious crime.”
“Corruption is not tolerable; bribery is not tolerable…”
Why did Golden introduce a resolution on Monserrate?
"I'm moving against this because this is an act I believe is intolerable, and sends a signal across the state"
There you have it.
It was clear at the time that if Marty Golden did not introduce a resolution concerning Carl Kruger, he would have revealed himself as a bloviating, hypocritical bag of wind.
And he revealed himself thus.
Of course, I would have opposed such a resolution (and laughed out loud if it had passed; which it wouldn’t have).
It took three days for Marty Golden to introduce a resolution about Hiram Monserrate.
From the time Carl Kruger surrendered to authorities to the time he took his plea, 285 days passed.
Yet Marty Golden did not say one word about his buddy, Carl Kruger.
He has yet to speak even unto this day.
And yet, the Brooklyn Republican Party, which Marty Golden controls through his handpicked sockpuppet, County Leader Craig Eaton, proposes to run Eaton’s handpicked Party Vice Chair, David Storobin, in a race where the Republicans plan to run blaming the Democrats for Carl Kruger’s corruption.
It boggles the mind.
Even more mind-boggling is the idea that Kruger’s erstwhile allies will try to use the Kruger brush on the likely Democratic candidate, Councilman Lew Fidler.
To quote Woody Allen, Fidler loves Kruger “like a brother.”
Back in 1993-94, when this seat last became vacant, Fidler was, for a short time, a possible candidate for this seat against Kruger and others, but between some issues in his own club (at the time infested with Garsons) and having two young children he opted out.
But that didn’t stop Carl from playing really mean, ugly and personal.
When a City Council seat opened in 2001, Fidler was supposed to be the presumptive choice of the area’s Democratic Party Leaders, but for a while, Kruger had his hat in the ring, just for the pleasure of leaving Lew twisting in the wind. Kruger played the game for as long as possible, just to fuck with Fidler for the sport of it.
Fidler was livid.
As Robert Caro once noted: “There is an expression used in Albany to describe the relationship of two men between whom there exists bad feeling when that feeling has existed for years, has resisted every attempt at reconciliation and has only deepened with the passage of time, to a point where ‘dislike’ is not so fitting a name for it as ‘hatred.’ In discussing such men, one assemblyman will say to another, with a knowing shake of his head: ‘They go back a long way’”
Lew Fidler and Carl Kruger go back a long way.
Once or twice over the decades, Kruger and Fidler have been forced by the occasion to utter a nice word about the other in public.
But as rare as those occurrences have been in public, such an occasion has never occurred in private.
In 2007, after one of my periodic attacks on Kruger, Rock Hackshaw asked me, "Why has [Kruger] succeeded in holding on to his seat? Was it Tony Genovese and the Jefferson club that held it all together for him ?"
I answered, “Perhaps initially, but it's probably mostly the inertia that saves all southern Brooklyn pols from having primaries until the Russian population in their districts reaches what sociologists like to call "the tipping point". Plus he raises mucho dinero. As To TJ, talk is,
[repeat of David Greenglass joke]…If and when the Commission ever give sanction to a hit upon Mr. Kruger, one can rest assured that, Tony Blundetto style, the Jefferson Club will insist, as an act of mercy, upon carrying out the execution itself.
One can also rest assured that when the word goes out that they are looking for a volunteer to carry out the distasteful task, the line in front of the club will run three thick around the block and down to Flatlands Avenue."
And as I later noted, “rest assured, as the poor potential volunteers suffer through waiting in the cold of a pouring winter rain storm, Lew Fidler’s staff will be giving away free coffee, doughnuts, hot toddies, complimentary umbrellas and words of encouragement to those on line.”
The other night, Vinnie Gentile, now a Councilman, asked me what the late TJ club District Leader, Bernie Catcher (alev ha-sholem)—a Fidler ally who work hard for Gentile against Golden in 2002 (in battle against Kruger), would say now about Kruger.
I replied, imitating Bernie: “I wish such twagedies on no one, but as ye sow, so shall ye weap. The chickens have come home to woost.”
So here we are presented with the irony of Carl Kruger’s longtime GOP allies trying to hang the burning tire of Carl Kruger’s disgraceful career as a public nuisance around the neck of one Kruger’s most vociferous enemies.
And people ask me why I don’t write fiction.