Tough Times for the Empire (State)

I guess New York can’t let Illinois have all the fun.

On Feb. 26, New York State Governor David Paterson announced an end to his reelection campaign. For many voters, this was hardly news; Paterson — who was widely mocked by the national political establishment, lobbied by the Obama administration not to run and who stumbled into office as a poor replacement for disgraced Governor Elliot “Client Number Nine” Spitzer — had seen his approval rating dwindle to a mere 26 percent.

Even when Spitzer resigned in connection with a prostitution scandal in 2008, his approval rating remained slightly higher; at least he was competent in his office.

Paterson, who began his term with random confessions of previous cocaine use and extramarital affairs, constantly appeared out of his depth in the messy world of Albany politics. The only reason that his decision not to run again even made the front page was the governor’s clear connection to an aide’s domestic violence case.

The aide, David A. Johnson, allegedly stripped a female companion of her clothes, choked her, and stopped her from getting help. This should have prompted Johnson to seek an early retirement or to turn himself in to the authorities.

Instead, he had friends in the State Police contact the woman several times. When the police were apparently unable to quiet her, Johnson called in the big guns: he had longtime friend Paterson call the woman the day before she was due to appear in court.

She failed to show up the next day, and the case was dropped. Problem solved, right?

The governor appears to not recognize any wrongdoing on his part, seems bewildered by calls for his resignation and swears that he did not abuse his office; I guess he lets his staffers handle the abuse.

Barely had the cries for Paterson’s head subsided when another New York politician snatched the headlines: 20-term congressman Charles Rangel was finally forced from his powerful position as chairman of the House Ways and Means committee by a report that he took free, corporate-sponsored trips — plural — to the Caribbean.

While that alone would never dislodge the great Mr. Rangel, he is also currently under investigation for failing to disclose several checking accounts valued between $250,000 and $500,000, illegally renting four apartments in New York City and not reporting $75,000 in income from his villa in the Dominican Republic.

It’s hard to imagine his excuse for these transgressions, given the fact that his congressional committee writes the tax laws that the rest of us have to obey.

Under normal circumstances, those two stories would be enough to hold the attention of the ever-busy news media, but freshman Congressman Eric Massa from the 29th district seems fully intent and fully capable of topping the bizarre achievements of his two political elders. He announced on March 3 that he would not seek reelection due to health reasons.

It quickly became clear that those “health” concerns were an attempt to conceal a whole different type of problem: that the Congressman had sexually harassed a whole host of navy shipmates, colleagues and male staffers throughout the course of his career.

Allegations rapidly emerged that Massa told an aide they should “frakk,” that he once gave a navy shipmate an unwanted “snorkeling” late at night (look it up on UrbanDictionary), that the Congressman celebrated his 50th birthday with a rowdy “tickle fight” with his younger staffers and that he would brag about his special “Massa Massages.”

The Congressman tried to defend himself as “a salty old sailor” — as if that phrase wasn’t evidence enough of his guilt — and fired back that the White House had forced him out because he wouldn’t support the health care bill.

By the time he appeared on Glenn Beck the next day, Massa admitted to the obviously disappointed “crier-in-chief” at Fox News that his mistakes were his own.

Maybe Massa realized that he might want to save the slightest shred of dignity for his retirement; between a governor covering up an aide’s domestic abuse, a Congressman firmly in the pocket of corporate interests and another felled upon his own sword, so to speak, dignity seems to have completely abandoned the state of New York.