Monday, April 06, 2009

It's An Incumbent's World In NY

The politicians were patting themselves on the back last week for allowing one of their comrades in the state senate to vote for the budget after she had fallen ill, going so far as to hit back against the press that has slammed them for their corruption and greed. Yet when you take a good look at what is going on in Albany whatever the Malcolm Smiths say in response to their critics is mostly fabricated.

So we should vote these corrupt bastards out, right? Well not so fast, the DN's Henry Stern tells us why that is highly unlikely to happen, even if the politician needs to be kicked to the curb.

From The NY Daily News:

The first is gerrymandering. The boundaries of existing districts have been carefully drawn to include areas where the incumbent is popular and exclude areas where potential opponents may reside. The Legislature has repeatedly rejected efforts to provide nonpartisan districting, because the current system gives incumbents districts that have been made-to-order for their political convenience. There's no sign of this changing anytime soon.

The second major advantage office-holders enjoy is free mailing privileges. For most of the year, incumbents send out illustrated brochures, styled as reports to constituents, but largely consisting of self-serving prose about the incumbent's accomplishments and photographs of himself, alone, with children or with grateful senior citizens.

Although these "reports" may not be mailed for a 90-day period before an election, the incumbent will have been sending these advertisements for the preceding year and nine months of his two-year term.

When you factor in that most incumbents have served for many terms - the average tenure exceeds 10 years - the public gains familiarity with the incumbent, even if they have no clear idea of who he is or exactly what he does.

Then you have to navigate New York's antiquated petition-signature process, get around the pork legislators are allowed to bring to their district and of course the cost of dealing with the expense of advertising in the #1 media market in the country. That is why over 90% of incumbents never leave their office until they are good and ready.

And that doesn't just apply to our state government. That is the way it works in the city as well. Term limits was supposed to help curb the powers of incumbency, but we all saw how the powerful politicians (see Mayor Bloomberg, Speaker Quinn and 28 others) were able to skirt the laws that the public had put in place to prevent such abuse.

Either one of two things must happen to right this ship we are all on. Reinstituting term limits for the city...and a new law for the state would help to some degree. It was starting to work in NYC and that is exactly why Bloomberg and Quinn got rid of it. Or, we could completely overhaul our government so that gerrymandering isn't allowed, pork is cut and the election process is majorly overhauled. Yeah, that is a tall order, so maybe we should start with term limits and go from there...preferably in a quick fashion so that clean elections follows soon after.