As the year comes to a close, so does another gloomy episode in state politics. After months of speculation — and weeks before his trial was scheduled to begin — State Senator Carl Kruger plead guilty last week to four counts of conspiracy and bribery over a five year stretch.
The 62-year-old Kruger, who represented Southern Brooklyn communities that included Sheepshead Bay and Mill Basin, resigned from office prior to his court appearance; but, in any case, by admitting guilt, he would have automatically been discharged from the state legislature, where he served and gradually gained influence since 1994.
In court, Kruger admitted to abusing his position with details of shady schemes in exchange for official backing. He allegedly also directed state funds and sponsored legislation that he convinced colleagues to support, which benefited him, lobbyist acquaintances and their clients.
The exhaustive federal complaint gives the impression that Kruger rarely made a decision without a guarantee of money or an exchange of favors paid directly to him or funneled through an accomplice, as he deprived constituents of reliable services. His six-figure taxpayer-funded salary with its five-figure stipend as chairman of the influential Senate Finance Committee, apparently wasn’t enough to support the lifestyle he preferred, which included a large Mill Basin mansion, financed, according to prosecutors, with bribe money.
Kruger was appointed head of the Finance Committee three years ago after he and three colleagues revolted against the Senate’s leadership and stalled the legislative progress with demands for specific positions of power. The arm-twisting worked, Kruger got the post, which only bolstered the self-importance that led to his downfall.
Though Kruger’s Senate colleagues never publicly condemned him, they reportedly shunned him when he returned to Albany four days after the indictment. He was expected to address Democratic senators, but cancelled when many lawmakers refused to attend.
Above all, this scandal is just the latest example of how money plays a crucial role in shaping city, state and national policies. It’s a shame that some of those elected turn into rotten apples, particularly when they see an opportunity to profit.
The New Testament (1 Timothy 6:10) cautions, “The love of money is the root of all evil,” but some politicians just don’t give a damn when temptation crosses their paths.
New York’s legislature’s reputation is disreputable enough; more corruption was unnecessary to spoil it further. Politicians are rarely high on the public trust scale, but Kruger reduced the little confidence that remained a few more degrees.
After the senator’s arrest in March, the federal prosecutor said the “case resulted from an unholy alliance of politicians, lobbyists and businessmen.”
This scandal once again spotlights what has been referred to as the nation’s most dysfunctional legislature, and should, as the U.S. attorney said, “be another wake-up call to undo New York’s ethical morass.”
Talk of ethics reform has echoed through the halls of state capitol for years, but little is ever accomplished. We’ve heard it before — especially when elections roll around — but it never materializes. New Yorkers no longer get excited when rhetoric touches on consequential reform because we’re well aware that politicians talk a good game, but support fades like a waning moon when decision time arises.
When I dealt with the senator as a reporter, I detested his showboating tactics, but this is not a cause for celebration. Some may gloat over this outcome and are glad to see him go, but whether or not you liked the guy is secondary to the latest humiliation for New York politics. Rather, it’s time for our state legislators to put responsibility to serve the public good ahead of any sleazy temptations. Elected representatives are not only expected to advocate our laws, but to uphold them, as well.
To make matters worse, Kruger will be eligible to collect the sizable pension he earned in office while he serves his sentence. That, in itself, is something that should end in any reform. When a state employee is guilty of felony, any pension due that individual should be voided or, at least, reduced. After all, Kruger admitted to cheating constituents and should not collect a taxpayer-funded pension earned after admitting he committed a crime or two.
Elected representatives are accountable to voters, not donors or personal whims. However, long before Carl Kruger, others like him used their office to supersede the will of the people. It’s disgraceful, but, too often, it seems like that’s the way business is conducted 180 miles north of Brooklyn.
If the state’s politicians don’t endorse far-reaching ethics reform to reverse the web of unremitting corruption, the rotten apples will continue to make things more challenging for the honorable ones.
Neil S. Friedman is a veteran reporter and photographer, and spent the last 15 years as a features editor at Canarsie Courier. Aside from reporting, he did public relations work for brands including Showtime, The Rolling Stones and Michael Jackson. Friedman contributes occasional columns on life, culture and politics in Sheepshead Bay.