Here was New York's most powerful state senator, Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), talking by phone on Dec. 10 with his son, who peddled a storm-water filtration system to Nassau County.
Rain had recently deluged Long Island. "We got some major water problems here with all the flooding going on," crowed 32-year-old Adam Skelos, as recorded by federal agents. "I love it! Keep it coming, Mother Nature!"
Hearing an inside player cheer for public misfortune might remind you of an ex-aide to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie proclaiming it "time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."
True, there's a difference. Those in power can sow chaos with orange cones yet cannot order up rain. But insiders rooting in private for gridlock or for floods -- especially after superstorm Sandy -- does anger people.
Dean and Adam Skelos face counts of extortion, bribe solicitation and conspiracy in connection with the younger Skelos' income. Both are pleading not guilty, but facts released so far by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara add up to political poison.
For tasteless staging, consider the discussion the elder Skelos allegedly had on Sunday, Jan. 4, with Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano. They'd traveled to Brooklyn for services for slain 32-year-old NYPD officer Wenjian Liu. As they walked together outside the Aievoli Funeral Home, Skelos asked Mangano, and Chief Deputy County Executive Rob Walkerabout payments to AbTech Holdings, the water firm that employed Adam Skelos, according to the FBI.
Then, after speaking by phone with another Nassau official, Walker "informed Dean Skelos that the payments would be made," according to the prosecution complaint. "At around the same time," it says, Adam Skelos called the senior Skelos, who assured him: "All claims that are in will be taken care of."
Apparently this bit of constituent service rose to such urgency that it couldn't wait for office hours on Monday. On Dec. 31, the younger Skelos was recorded saying if funds were withheld, "the state is not going to do a [expletive] thing for the county. Any favor . . . [Mangano] calls and asks for, it's not happening."
The Skeloses, presumed innocent under law, deserve chances to respond. For a public-relations strategy, Sen. Skelos may want to stick with saying that people do want to help their kids. What's proven not to work is calling pursuit of a personal agenda a traffic study.