TOPICS > Politics

New York Politics Riled by Ethical Scandals

March 3, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
Loading the player...
As New York Rep. Charles Rangel and Gov. David Paterson face ethical inquiries, Gwen Ifill sits down with political scientist Douglas Muzzio to discuss what's ahead for the Empire State.
LISTEN SEE PODCASTS

TRANSCRIPT

GWEN IFILL: Now: a look at two big political stories from two of the country’s largest states.

We start in New York.

New York politics suffered two body blows this week. One occurred in Washington today, where longtime Congressman Charles Rangel was forced to temporarily step aside from his influential post as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

REP. CHARLES RANGEL, D-N.Y., House Ways and Means Committee chairman: And, in order to avoid my colleagues having to defend me during their elections, I have, this morning, sent a letter to Speaker Pelosi, asking her to grant me a leave of absence, until such time as the Ethics Committee completes its work.

GWEN IFILL: Rangel’s troubles began in 2008, with reports he misused rent-controlled apartments in New York City.

A House Ethics Committee probe has also been investigating allegations that Rangel failed to report more than $660,000 in assets and $75,000 in rental income from a villa he owns in the Dominican Republic.

Last Friday, the Ethics Committee found Rangel violated House standards by accepting Caribbean trips financed by corporations. Rangel said he had no knowledge of the corporate support, but the committee’s admonishment unsettled House Democrats.

After House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pointedly declined to back Rangel last night, and with the prospect of a Republican push for his ouster, he agreed to step aside.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio, house minority leader: The Ethics Committee has found that Mr. Rangel violated the rules of the House, and he has been admonished. As a longtime member of the House, he does not deserve to be a member of the Democrat leadership, nor as chairman of this committee.

GWEN IFILL: The other shoe appears to be dropping in Albany, where Governor David Paterson is under growing fire. State officials there are investigating whether he intervened in a domestic violence case to protect a top aide.

And the state’s Public Integrity Commission said today he broke ethics rules by soliciting the Yankees for free World Series tickets.

Paterson defended himself today.

GOV. DAVID PATERSON, D-N.Y.: People should have a right to tell their side of the story. And — and I guess I will get that right. And I can’t be more moved than that the public understands that, because, when you read some of these accounts, you would think that it would change people’s minds.

But I’m glad to see that people understand that there are different sides to a story. But my side will not be unsourced. It will not be inaccurate. It will be the truth.

GWEN IFILL: The New York governor has already bowed to political pressure once, announcing just last week he would not seek reelection. But some Democrats are now demanding he resign immediately.

Now, for more on the political rumblings in the Empire State, we turn to Douglas Muzzio, professor of political science at Baruch College of the City University of New York.

Professor Muzzio, tell us, what is the significance of Charles Rangel’s decision today to step aside, even if temporarily?

DOUGLAS MUZZIO, professor of public affairs, Baruch College – The City University of New York: As he said in his statement, what it does is, it precludes a bitter fight to remove him permanently from the chairmanship and to having Democrats actually have to defend him, and, therefore, endangering their reelection or election prospects.

The narrative would have been, here, you have the head of House Ways and Means Committee not paying his taxes. The national narrative would have been, they are corrupt, meaning the Democrats, and they are irresponsible.

GWEN IFILL: And Charles Rangel succeeded Adam Clayton Powell in the seat that he holds in — in Congress. How large a figure has he been on the New York political scene and also in the House of Representatives?

DOUGLAS MUZZIO: He’s been a giant. He’s been a 20-term, 40-year member of Congress. He’s the dean of the New York delegation. He has had much power in Washington, assuming the chairmanship of what is really the most powerful committee in the House.

So, he is both powerful within the delegation in New York, and certainly powerful in the House.

GWEN IFILL: He has said, up until now, while all of these allegations have been brewing and growing, that it’s basically a misunderstanding. So, why — why step aside now?

DOUGLAS MUZZIO: Because it’s more than a misunderstanding. There are really bases in fact for the charges.

He didn’t pay his taxes on his Dominican Republic properties. He did get an interest — interest-free loan. He did have four rent-subsidized apartments provided by a Manhattan real estate developer. And he did solicit funds for his center at CUNY. So, there are bases in fact, and there may not be misunderstandings, but, in fact, understandings of the facts.

GWEN IFILL: Let’s move on now to Governor David Paterson.

We saw — we have seen him backing away, backing away from his stance, saying last week he wouldn’t run again, and now he’s under pressure not to even serve out — serve out his term. What is the significance of where he is right now?

DOUGLAS MUZZIO: I think he’s at the precipice. And I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t jump or was aided in jumping by being pushed, particularly the accumulation of bad news.

Today’s Commission on Public Integrity report that he willfully mistestified under oath about his willingness to pay for those tickets just adds more to the proverbial camel’s back. It’s not straws — strands of straw. It’s bales of straw. And I don’t know how much longer that spine can hold up.

GWEN IFILL: You know, David Paterson is not new to this game. He was a senate leader for many times in the state senate in Albany. He was lieutenant governor. How did he get to this point, this crossroads in his career?

DOUGLAS MUZZIO: Well, there — when he was minority leader, he didn’t have much power, because, in New York State, it’s three men in a room, and he wasn’t one of the three men leading the minority in the Senate. So, he never really had leadership responsibilities.

This was the first time that he actually needed to lead, and, so far, he hasn’t succeeded very well.

GWEN IFILL: You know, most people outside of New York don’t realize there is actually a personal connection between Charles Rangel and David Paterson, a history that goes back some way.

DOUGLAS MUZZIO: Absolutely.

David Paterson’s father was Basil Paterson, part of the famous Harlem “Gang of Four,” which really was the center of black political power in New York. And David Paterson took over what was his father’s seat. So, there are — there are personal, social, and political connections between Charlie Rangel and David Paterson.

GWEN IFILL: As we look at this now in New York, how big a distraction is this for Democrats there and for Democrats nationally to have these two significant figures in such trouble?

DOUGLAS MUZZIO: It is a huge distraction.

In New York, we’re virtually deadlocked. There’s not gridlock here. There’s deadlock. We don’t have a dysfunctional government. We have a non-functioning government. It’s sort of a combination of Rod Serling meets Lewis Carroll. It’s the Twilight Zone and Wonderland, and you can’t imagine what the next story is.

GWEN IFILL: Well Douglas Muzzio of Baruch College, thank you so much for helping us out.

DOUGLAS MUZZIO: Thank you.