“If I have a good thing to hand out in private life, I give it to a friend. Why shouldn’t I do the same in public life?” – George Washington Plunkitt
Powerful people are literally running and hiding from NY1’s Courtney Gross rather than answering her questions about the city’s Board of Elections.
I don’t blame them. Over three days, Gross has uncovered a rat’s nest of incompetence and patronage at the bumbling board, which resembles a gorgeous mosaic of nepotism.
Unlike every other city agency, the board is overseen and largely staffed by the local Democratic and Republican parties in an effort to ensure that a sitting mayor and his party aren’t overseeing the process. But instead of the board being run by non-partisan technocrats, it often feels like My Cousin Vinny is at the wheel.
Every recent election in New York City is Groundhog Day: Something goes wrong, and the board’s leaders say it’s not their fault. And then we move on until the next election.
Jammed scanners? It’s the weather. Inaccurate results? The media wants to know the numbers too quickly.
As Gross shows, becoming an employee of the board isn’t about what you know, but often who you know.
Manhattan Democratic Chairman Keith Wright, whose organization gets to appoint one of the board’s 10 commissioners, channeled the spirit of Tammany Hall when discussing the board’s setup.
“Everything is patronage. It doesn't mean that it's all bad. Patronage is not a bad thing at all. With patronage, you get to help people in your communities,’’ he told Gross.
But as the infamous Tammany leader George Washington Plunkitt once noted, there’s “honest” and “dishonest” graft, with those engaged in the latter enterprise only interested in lining their pockets instead of helping people. We’re clearly not playing with an honest deck of cards.
Unfortunately, the people who could overhaul the board are often benefitting from the current setup: politicians. Many state lawmakers would have to bite the political hands that feed them in order to turn the agency into a non-partisan board. Does Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie – who used to run the Bronx Democratic party – really want to see Bronx Democrats lose a seat at the board’s table?
If you squint hard enough, maybe you can see some profiles in courage in Albany. Until then, here’s hoping they find some smarter cousins.