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Dean Skelos, Adam Skelos verdict proves the dysfunction of New York politics

New York Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos

New York Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and his son Adam leave federal court in New York, Monday, May 4, 2015. Credit: AP / Craig Ruttle

With the conviction of former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and his son, Adam, on eight federal corruption counts on Friday, regular Long Islanders got another peek at the truth: They pay taxes, but the government is not theirs. It belongs to the political players, the insiders, the elected officials and their cronies. And it is operated for their benefit.

In a call to his son recorded earlier this year in federal wiretaps, then-Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) explained the power he wielded and his attitude toward it: “I’m going to be president of the Senate, I’m going to be majority leader, I’m going to control everything, I’m going to control who gets on what committees, what legislation goes to the floor, what legislation comes through committees, the budget, everything.”

It’s not about public service. It’s just about garnering, exercising and, yes, selling power.

Adam Skelos was convicted of making $300,000 off his dad’s influence. Every penny was compensation for exercising, or the perceived exercising of, his father’s power. To enrich their family, Dean Skelos and his son manipulated state budget negotiations, county contracting processes, industrial development deals, and the state authority charged with overseeing Nassau’s finances. And they did so with an arrogance that was offensive.

Asked to show up for one of the jobs his father arranged for him with a medical malpractice insurer, Adam Skelos said to his boss, “Let’s stop pretending. Guys like you aren’t fit to shine my shoes. And if you talk to me like that again, I’ll smash your [expletive] head in.”

Perhaps what’s most disgusting is the fact that the scandals are not surprising. But why would they be be? Official after official has been investigated for such crimes.

In a splashy trial last month, former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was found guilty of federal corruption charges for crimes that netted him $4 million. Four of the past five Senate leaders, two of them Democrats and two Republicans, have been charged with betraying the public trust.

And the Skelos and Silver trials were just the big, obvious media circuses. Other bad behavior gets less attention.

Former Smithtown Highway Superintendent Glenn Jorgenson was sentenced on Friday to 560 hours of community service and three years of probation for falsifying documents on a paving project. In Oyster Bay, planning and development commissioner Frederick Ippolito has been charged with tax evasion for not declaring $2 million he got from a paving company that did business with the town. And that same town is embroiled in a federal investigation because of favorable treatment it gave to restaurateur Harendra Singh, who is also a friend and travel buddy of Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, a county contractor and the employer of Mangano’s wife.

All of this privilege and profiteering for politicians and their pals and families is the system, set up entirely for the benefit of the folks who know how to work it. And if we want the system to improve, we’ll have to make sweeping changes. We need election laws that create competitive races at every level. We need more disclosure, more transparency, more limits on contributions from anyone who has business in front of public entities. And we need to unseat elected officials who fight these changes. Because they’re working against the voters, and for their own pocketbooks.

And that’s gone on far too long.