Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Missing the Old Days in Albany

Published: March 25, 2008

Don’t you find yourself missing the old Albany? We’re talking about a distant past that is now no more than a gauzy outline in memory.

We’re talking about February.

Don’t you miss “three men in a room”? That’s long been a scornful reference to the trilateral cabal — made up of the governor, the State Senate majority leader and the Assembly speaker — that convened to settle all important state matters.

Now New Yorkers hear mainly about one man and one woman in a room, with the woman possibly having been rented for the night, depending on which governor we’re discussing.

On the plus side, New York is not New Jersey. There, when they talk about three in a room, they mean the former governor, his wife and the driver who says he had sex with one while the other watched.

Don’t you miss the days when “pay for play” was Albany shorthand for the method by which businesses won state contracts, and didn’t refer to a governor’s sexual habits?

Don’t you miss the days when “politics makes strange bedfellows” was a metaphor for acts of convenience, and not an expression to be taken literally?

Don’t you miss the days when “constituent services” referred to traffic lights installed on streets where kids were being hit by speeding cars, and wasn’t code for a politician’s hotel stay with someone who might have lived in his district?

Don’t you miss the days when “lulu” was Albanyspeak for extra money slipped to lawmakers — it was shorthand for “payment in lieu of expenses” — and you didn’t have to wonder if it might be the name of a politician’s girlfriend?

Don’t you miss the days when officials in Albany spoke with worry about unions and they meant powerful labor organizations, not their marriages? Don’t you, while we’re at it, miss the days when the word “dysfunctional” routinely modified the political process in Albany and not husband-and-wife relationships?

Don’t you miss “the Bear Mountain Compact,” under which everyone stayed mum about any fooling around that politicians indulged in once they were north of the Bear Mountain Bridge? Now the hanky-panky has moved southward, to hotel rooms in Washington and on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

Don’t you miss the days when complaints about being late with the money referred to a delay in passing the state budget, and didn’t mean the governor had dilly-dallied in reimbursing his political campaign for clothes and heaven knows what else?

Don’t you miss the days when a mention of “Ashley” alluded to one of the most popular names in New York for newborn girls, and didn’t make you think immediately about a high-priced call girl?

Don’t you miss the days when “prostitution” was a harsh metaphor for political deal-making and was not to be taken as a literal description of a governor’s supposed sexual preferences?

Don’t you miss the days when it would have been inconceivable for a reporter to ask a governor at a news conference if he had ever patronized a prostitute?

Don’t you miss the days, way back in the week of March 10, when a governor’s response to that cheeky question — “only the lobbyists,” he said — produced laughter and not wonder about whether he was telling the whole truth?

Don’t you miss the days when the biggest scandal in Albany focused on a possible misuse of state aircraft by the Senate majority leader and questions about whether the governor had gone too far in trying to wreck the senator’s career?

Don’t you miss the days when curiosity about what went on behind closed doors turned solely on questionable political bargains?

Don’t you miss the days when a politician in Albany fiddled with money other than his own so that his ailing wife could have a driver, and not so that he himself could have extramarital sex?

Don’t you miss the days when governors stood alone at news conferences and didn’t drag along their wives to stand beside them?

Don’t you miss the days when a governor’s wife was taken to task for leaning on political groups to buy a children’s book that she’d written — that would be Libby Pataki, for those of you who do not remember — and was not called to account for her own dalliances beyond the marital bed?

Don’t you miss the days when talk in Albany about reining in spending applied to government programs, not the cost of a hotel room?

Don’t you miss it all?

We do, even knowing that nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.

E-mail: haberman@nytimes.com

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