Wormuth’s woes bring movie to mind
In the classic 1996 film “Fargo,” there’s a scene near the end of the movie where intrepid police chief Marge Gunderson shakes her head at the greed and stupidity that triggered her investigation.
Seven people have been murdered, “and for what?” Marge asks. “For a little bit of money. There’s more to life than a little money, you know. Don’t you know that? And here ya are, and it’s a beautiful day. Well, I just don’t understand it.”
I thought of Marge and “Fargo” last week, when Halfmoon Supervisor Melinda Wormuth was arrested on charges that she stole more than $6,000 in campaign contributions and extorted cash payments to lobby state legislators.
Now, nobody’s accusing Wormuth of murder. Not at all.
It’s just that, to my ears, the charges against her sound like something out of a quirky movie about small-town crime.
According to the grand jury indictment, she accepted more than $7,000 from unidentified MMA promoters to advocate for the legalization of mixed martial arts competitions in New York. She allegedly used town letterhead to write to Assemblyman James Tedisco and state Sen. Kathy Marchione on behalf of the sport, saying, “Some of my constituents are fans and promoters of MMA and have to travel outside the town of Halfmoon to promote or watch the sport they love.”
The mixed martial arts allegations inspire a number of questions, such as: Are the residents of Halfmoon really flocking to neighborhood states to watch mixed martial arts? And, do mixed martial arts promoters really believe that the supervisor of Halfmoon can influence state legislators? And, all this trouble over mixed martial arts?
For the record, I think mixed martial arts should be legalized in New York.
I’m not a fan, and it’s not an issue I feel especially passionate about, but in a world where boxing and NFL football are legal, I don’t see why MMA can’t be legal, too. And I did enjoy the 2011 movie “Warrior,” about long-estranged brothers pitted against each other in a big mixed-martial arts competition.
But how I feel about mixed martial arts is beside the point.
And I suspect that how Wormuth feels about mixed martial arts is also beside the point.
For the layman, it takes a certain amount of energy to wade through and understand the details of the case against her. But here, in the sort of fairly simple terms Marge Gunderson would use, is what it’s allegedly all about: a little bit of money. Essentially, prosecutors are alleging that Wormuth sold out her constitutions and her office for less than $15,000. Which is chump change, really: In “Fargo,” $1 million was at stake.
During a visit to Birmingham, Ala., last year, my friends and I discussed the massive corruption scandal that had landed four of the five members of the county commission in prison or on probation. The extent of wrongdoing varied: While one commissioner accepted more than $800,000 in bribes, another received $4,000 in gifts — fancy shoes, a nice purse, a trip to a spa in New York City.
Sometimes I’m amazed at how little it takes to corrupt.
Because if it wasn’t shoes, it probably would have been something else.
We’ll learn more about the case against Wormuth in the coming weeks and months.
But she’s been the subject of scrutiny for a little while now.
In recent years, she’s come under fire for her close ties to local developers, and in her 2011 run for a third term she was forced to return $4,000 to developer Bruce Tanski after his contributions exceeded the state’s campaign finance limit. Last year she stepped down from Saratoga County’s Public Works Committee amid controversy over a land deal in which she sold two properties for well above their assessed value to a local developer.
“Fargo” was directed by the Coen Brothers, who specialize in movies about petty crimes committed by venal, dimwitted people, and I bet they’d make a pretty good film out of the indictment against Wormuth. The screenplay could describe what happens when the gritty world of mixed martial arts meets small-town politics; perhaps Frances McDormand, who played Marge, could be cast in the lead, while colorful actors such as Steve Buscemi could play the MMA promoters and fighters.
Some of these characters will really care about mixed martial arts.
But others will just be in it for the money.
By the way, I’ve been following the rollout of Obamacare with some interest, and I’m interested in hearing what people who are buying, or are attempting to buy, health insurance through the state exchange are encountering. Are you having a hard time accessing the website? Are the prices reasonable? Are the subsidies helping? Anyway, if you feel like telling me what it’s like to navigate this new program, please email me at sfoss@dailygazette or call 395-3193.
Sara Foss, a Gazette columnist, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Her blog is at www.dailygazette.com/weblogs/foss.