Thursday, February 26, 2009
by Gary Tilzer
Everyone recognizes that bid rigging on cement and traffic light contracts are the work of organized crime. Until ex-city labor leader and Queens assemblyman Brian McLaughlin pleaded guilty to fixing traffic light bidding contracts, that is. Why is it then, that when elected officials rig our state and city elections to ensure that every incumbent gets reelected, no one calls their deliberate strategy criminal and organized? Party leaders unchallenged for generations in competitive elections, use their control over ballot access to enrich themselves and their friends. Has extortion become normal in politics? The shake down goes way beyond control of the ballot lines. Member items and other government funding has been used not only to assure reelection but to break the bones of those that oppose the elected officials on any subject.
Newspaper editorials and good government groups push for individual fixes to our crisis in local government – public financing of state campaigns is one example. But, no one says outright that our right to representative democracy has been hijacked in an organized crime sort of way. Just like the mob rigged drugs, gambling and prostitution, our elected officials have rigged the election laws to protect incumbents from challengers. A good example of an election law hit can be found in the case of the candidate who was knocked off the ballot in a special election this week because a judge said the name of his party broke the election law (in a special election you cannot use established parties). Glenn DiResto was removed from the ballot because the name he chose: Families First, according to the judge, sounded too much like the established Working Families Party. Because of thuggish tactics like the manipulation of election laws, our local elections have become so noncompetitive that beyond public view, most incumbents regardless of party or reform beliefs, work together like the organized crime commission (organized in 1957 in Appalachian, New York), to keep the outs “out.” Sometimes elections are so fixed that opposing parties do not put up candidates to oppose elected officials who work with them . In Brooklyn last year Democrats Kurger and Cymbrowitz were both unopposed by Republicans. Republican Golden was unopposed by Democrats. There are dozens of other examples throughout the city.
It is not only the election laws at play here. A lot of muscle has been used by incumbents to cause the collapse of local competitive elections: The barriers erected to block ballot access to non-incumbent candidates; redistricting to protect incumbents and divide organized communities; the political use of the government budget by incumbents - member items; the low voter turnout caused by the lack of a real choice, the replacement of the clubhouse system which with all its probems provided services in exchange for votes, with public relations consultant's flacks who spin to a willing press that all too often accepts press releases and spin as news.
Democracy is strongest and the public is best represented when one candidate gets 49% and the other gets 51%. In a close election incumbents are forced to pay attention to their voter’s needs and their legislative leaders funnel programs and services to their districts to help them get reelected. Click here to read more about Political Organized Crime *** Showdown for the BusFellas' Union: A mobster's old cronies vie to keep control.