EDITORIAL - The New York Daily News - June 8, 2008
The sleaze that is the New York State Legislature continues to reveal itself in new and astonishing ways. The latest specimen is Democratic Assemblyman David Gantt of Rochester, Transportation Committee chairman. He pulled a maneuver so lousy, his Albany cohorts are running away from him as fast as they can. This is the Mr. Gantt who has for the last seven years singlehandedly blocked plans by numerous cities, including New York, to use cameras to enforce traffic rules. Speed cameras? Gantt said no. Additional red-light cameras? Gantt said no. Cameras to snag drivers who hog bus-only lanes (Mayor Bloomberg's fallback after the Assembly killed congestion pricing)? Gantt said no. He explained his opposition as a matter of high principle. He said cameras would violate privacy. "It's the old Big Brother watching," he said.
But all of a sudden, Gantt has begun to love Big Brother. He introduced a bill that endorsed red-light cameras, writing that his measure was "aimed at helping reduce a major safety problem at urban and rural intersections." But Gantt wasn't interested in letting cities like New York and Buffalo buy the red-light cameras of their choice. His bill mandates cameras that use a technology marketed by just a single upstate company. And that firm happens to employ Gantt's former Transportation Committee counsel Robert Gaddy as an $80,000 lobbyist. The fix was in. Caught in flagrante, Gantt admitted to Newsday that he had introduced the bill as a "favor" to Gaddy, adding: "He's like a son to me. I don't know the company, never talked to them." That should be no surprise. This same Legislature made a routine business of passing fraudulent pension bills for politically powerful unions.
The law requires legislators to project the costs of retirement sweeteners. No problem. Lawmakers let the unions pull numbers out of the air and write them into legislation. They claimed the tab was zero or close to it when actually they were draining the city treasury of a half-billion dollars. There is no other conclusion but that Albany is for sale. Bloomberg railed that the pension bills were far more expensive than advertised. The Legislature dismissed him as a tightwad given to exaggeration. But he was right, while Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Majority Leader Joe Bruno and their troops were in the tank. When Bloomberg pleaded for the authority to expand traffic cameras, Silver gave Gantt veto power - no hearings, no debates. Posturing as a champion of privacy rights, Gantt told Bloomberg to stuff it - until, that is, Gantt's pal got paid to help things move in Albany. If a member of Congress tried a stunt like this, there'd be criminal and ethics investigations out the wazoo. But we're talking Albany, where the DA is a dud and where Silver rules the Ethics Committee like he rules everything else in the Assembly.