Fiscally conservative New Yorkers now know how G-men must have felt watching Chicago mob boss Al Capone taken away for tax evasion.
It had to be a bittersweet moment -- seeing your arch target tripped up for something as mundane as a tax code violation. They no doubt dreamed of taking out "Public Enemy No. 1" with a capital murder conviction or in a hail of gunfire. But in the end, it was green-eye-shade bureaucrats with accounting ledgers who got their man.
Where's the satisfaction in that?
Former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is hardly Al Capone, but to those who have watched New York atrophy into a tax and regulatory hell in the span of a few decades, and who have watched Silver block significant tort and pension reform proposals that came down the pike since the mid 1990s, he's topped the most wanted list at the state Capitol for quite some time. (Turning a blind eye to sexual assaults committed by colleagues didn't endear him to the public, either.)
But after all the backroom deals Silver made in this state, after all the cozy arrangements that contributed to New York's status as a leading national exporter of businesses and families, it was a tax code violation that took him down. The simple act of putting income in his wife's name was what ultimately persuaded the one holdout juror to convict.
A lot of people are calling the Silver verdict and the ongoing trial of former Republican Majority Leader Dean Skelos an indictment of Albany's culture. But that indictment is typically couched in terms of elected leaders looking out for their own relatively small interests.
The $4 million in ill-gotten gains that Silver received over the years is nothing to sneeze at, nor are the no-show jobs that Skelos allegedly arranged for his son. The real scandal, however, is likely in the billions of dollars that New York taxpayers have to shell out every year for overly generous public employee pension sweeteners and other special-interest deals made behind closed doors. Kill this bill and the endorsement and election apparatus are yours -- that kind of the thing. Those are the deals that have made New York the least economically competitive state in America, according to one ranking.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara is doing the public a great service in exposing some of the larcenous deals that have occurred in the hallways of Albany. But the real focus in the long run -- the larger target -- needs to be on the whispered deals that keep New York State at the bottom of the national list in so many economic categories.
Now that would be an expose. That would be a trial to watch.
William F. B. O'Reilly is a Republican consultant.