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29th December

First Published in The New York Sun, December 29, 2006

By Andrew Wolf

On the first day of the new state administration everything is supposed to change, but if one of Governor-elect Spitzer’s key appointments is any indication of things to come, the current Albany atmosphere will change little.

Last week, Mr. Spitzer appointed Lorraine Cortes-Vasquez to the post of secretary of state. Ms. Cortes-Vazquez is a prominent ally of the Bronx Democratic organization.

The senior Bronx member of the state Senate, Democrat Efrain Gonzalez Jr., is under federal indictment for the misuse of “member item” money. If he is convicted, the Gonzalez affair will have taken political corruption to a new low, as funds that were meant for the most needy in the borough allegedly were diverted to subsidize the senator’s lavish lifestyle and romantic trysts.

After surviving through the Koch, Dinkins, and Giuliani years, the lawyer for the Bronx Democratic Party, Stanley Schlein, was denied reappointment to his post as chairman of the Civil Service Commission by Mayor Bloomberg. Months earlier, in an unusual move, Mr. Schlein was barred from accepting routine guardianship and referee posts by the state court administration, political plums that he used to receive by the bushel.

Mr. Schlein was the attorney who negotiated the “community benefits” agreement with the New York Yankees, acting as lawyer for both sides. Under the terms of this agreement, Bronx politicians will control a $40-million Yankee-financed fund, the price extracted by the party organization to build the new stadium.

The Bronx County Democratic leader is Assemblyman Jose Rivera, now reportedly under federal investigation. Mr. Rivera has given new meaning to the term of nepotism, having installed two of his children in public office and their spouses and his former girlfriend in high-paid patronage jobs.

Mr. Rivera is not the only Bronx Democrat who has engaged in this practice. He is joined by the Diaz clan, the Serrano clan, the Foster clan, and the Espada clan in making Bronx politics a family affair.

Rather than political clubs holding meetings to make decisions, in the Bronx, it is at family reunions where political decisions are made. While this is a source of mirth for those of us who comment on things political, it isn’t funny to the one-and-a-half million Bronxites who have seen the continued deterioration of their quality of life, the loss of jobs, the stagnation of their schools, and the permanent place the borough has as the poorest county in the city and the state. Lack of political leadership is high on the list of reasons why conditions in the Bronx are so bad.

The low esteem in which the borough’s political leadership is held was cited by the New York Post last week as the reason why the Bronx president, Adolfo Carrion Jr., is unlikely to be named to replace Alan Hevesi as comptroller despite Mr. Carrion’s aggressive efforts. The Post handicapped his bid at 1,000-1, citing the muddy track on which he runs as the reason for the long odds.

So from this base of Bronx politics, the squeaky-clean new governor has plucked Ms. Cortes-Vasquez. Ms. Cortes-Vasquez currently is a lobbyist for Cablevision. When the cable company, which opposed Mayor Bloomberg’s plan for a West Side stadium, hired her, the mayor expressed his contempt. He was disgusted over the way politicians, especially the Bronx crew, were being courted to oppose his stadium plan and saw her appointment as part of that effort.

Ms. Cortes-Vasquez was picked by Cablevision not because of any special skill but because of her ties to these pliable politicos of the Bronx organization. Her patron is the former Bronx Democratic boss, Roberto Ramirez, whom she served as chief of staff. Her appointment both at Cablevision and in her new post as secretary of state should be seen for what it is. She has and will act as Mr. Ramirez’s surrogate.

Mr. Ramirez has a long history with the incoming governor. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have flowed from Spitzer campaign committees to companies affiliated with Mr. Ramirez, now a “campaign consultant.”

Ms. Cortes-Vasquez played a key role in Mr. Spitzer’s 1998 razor-thin victory over Attorney General Vacco. Mr. Vacco, questioned during the campaign about capital punishment, remarked, “We don’t do surveys of criminals. You don’t stand outside a bodega and ask the bandito if he would have killed somebody if there was no death penalty.” Ms. Cortes-Vasquez, heading the nonprofit, nonpartisan, but Ramirez influenced, Hispanic Federation, used her post to charge that this remark showed Mr. Vacco to be prejudiced against Latinos.

Mr. Spitzer showed his appreciation in 2004 when he directed that one of his targets in the financial world, Philip Anschutz, the former chairman of Qwest, “donate” $100,000 to the Hispanic Federation as part of the penalty for his “misdeeds.”

That same year, The New York Sun disclosed that Mr. Ramirez’s firm, in a memo to a prospective client, bragged of its ties to key “decision makers,” Mr. Spitzer among them. That memo read, “Elected officials have entrusted their careers to us, and we have delivered. In turn, we are now able to provide our clients with access and opportunity to an often impenetrable world … Our special relationships with key decision makers mean we can make the necessary introductions with the least amount of delays or confusion, while ensuring the greatest opportunity for successful intervention on our client’s behalf.”

And it appears that on Monday, nothing will change.

© 2006 The New York Sun, One, SL, LLC. All rights reserved.

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