Editorial: How low does the bar go
Investigation raises questions about how much we'll accept from politicians
Last week, the New York Times published a major investigative piece about alleged interference by people in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office into the affairs of a commission he appointed to root out corruption in state government.
Turns out, the corruption was apparently coming from the top.
In exhaustive detail backed up by e-mails, internal documents, subpoenas and dozens of interviews, The Times laid out how Cuomo aides took great steps to quash any attempts by the governor's Moreland Commission to aim its investigative tools at Cuomo contributors and allies, or to do anything that could make the chief executive look bad.
In one example of many, the report noted how the efforts of the commission's chief investigator were thwarted when she and her investigators sought to serve a subpoena on the Real Estate Board of New York, whose members were some of the governor's biggest campaign contributors. The report spotlights repeated emails from a commission member close to Cuomo urging the investigator not to serve the subpoena and a phone call from the governor's powerful secretary demanding no subpoena be issued. Ultimately, the commission only issued a letter to the board asking for information.
There are plenty of other examples in the article of how the governor's office bullied and blocked any efforts by the commission to do its job, which Cuomo himself said when he established it that its duties included investigating the governor's office.
The piece read less like a newspaper article and more like a chapter from Nixon's book of dirty tricks. It makes all the fuss about Eliot Spitzer's prurient indiscretions look kind of petty.
Cuomo himself is never implicated directly in any of the arm-twisting, although his closest minions said they were acting on his behalf as he was talking out both sides of his mouth about his desire for ethics reform in government. As the inventor Robert Noyce once said, "If ethics are poor at the top, that behavior is copied down through the organization."
Their drooling and righteous indignation of Cuomo's political opponents aside, they are correct in demanding a thorough investigation, either by the U.S. attorney already looking into the commission or someone even more detached from the case.
But this story isn't just about Albany. It isn't just about corruption. It isn't just about who did what to cover up for whom. Not entirely. This story is about us. The citizens of New York. The voters. The taxpayers.
Is this the kind of government we want? Is the bar now set so low that we'll turn a blind eye to this kind of ethical dementia?
Whether Cuomo should resign over this scandal is up to him. (Just a guess: He won't.) But if the allegations are proven through an independent investigation to be true and possibly criminal, then the governor and all those who acted on his behalf should rethink their careers in public service.
At the same time, we the people of New York state have an obligation to determine in our own minds whether these are the kind of people we want serving us in government.