Personally I have never really given much thought to the pay of elected officials because we have the ability to fire them. But a few weeks ago Congress actually gave itself a raise shortly after its public repudiation of Wall Street and the auto industry. Local Congressman Gary Ackerman even went so far as to say that he considers public servants to be “greatly underpaid”. This is the same Congressman who now pulls in $174,000 per year in active income and reports anywhere between $15,000 and $50,000 in passive income as an owner of the Queens Tribune. Senator and Mrs. Schumer pulled in more than $370,000 from their government jobs and last year received another $94,000 in royalties from the Senator’s book about, well, being a Senator.
Ackerman’s grandstanding successfully grabbed headlines when he chastised the auto executives for flying privately to the bailout hearings. He joined a chorus of other lawmakers who recommended that the executives work for $1 per year just as Lee Iacocca famously did when he turned Chrysler around. To be fair, the auto executives deserved to be admonished for being so crass and out of touch as to charter private jets to defend why they should receive billions of taxpayer dollars to save their companies.
While the auto manufacturers looked remarkably out of touch with consumer demand and market realities, they hardly acted alone in killing consumer confidence and creating upheaval in the credit markets. If we’re going to get technical for a moment, it was the Senate banking committee (which Schumer is likely to head soon), The Federal Reserve, Washington lobbyists and investment banks that deregulated and dismantled our economy and contributed to the collapse of the markets. So under this logic shouldn’t we be asking the banking committee, investment bankers and all of Congress to work for $1 per year?
Quite the opposite, actually. Bank CEO’s were given billions of dollars and didn’t have to explain where it went, the Senate banking committee is still in power and Congress got a raise. What a country!
Today the hopes of a nation now squarely rest on the broad shoulders of a man who redefines American politics but our troubles at home are ever-present and frighteningly real. That’s why the differences and parallels between the leader of New York State and these United States are so interesting. The nation has its first black President by choice; New York has its first black Governor by happenstance. Both are competent, respected and affable and neither man shrinks from a challenge. Both have warned us of the perils that lay ahead.
A few weeks ago in this column I lauded then President-elect Obama to reappoint Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense to ensure a smooth transition in the most sensitive area of government. The same is actually true of David Paterson. He put aside politics in the case of homeland security and retained the services of Michael Balboni as Deputy Secretary for Public Safety.
On the surface, this doesn’t appear to be such a bold move since Balboni was already in the position under Spitzer. Yet some viewed Balboni’s original appointment as a political decision as much as a good policy choice. At the time, removing Republican Balboni from his Senate seat brought the New York Democrats one seat closer to a majority. But that was yesterday. Today the seat is in the hands of popular democrat Craig Johnson and the Senate is now under democrat control. Essentially Paterson could have taken the opportunity to fill Balboni’s department with patronage and party loyalists.
Instead, Paterson made the right decision for New Yorkers and continued his relationship with Balboni and his staff. It wasn’t long ago that Balboni himself was a high ranking Republican being considered for the State Attorney General’s position or possibly Governor. But a profound knowledge of Homeland Security forged early in his career—when it wasn’t the least bit fashionable—damned him to a position that, believe me, I’m thankful he’s in. When asked to serve New York in this capacity Balboni not only took a pay cut, he essentially sealed his fate with the Republican Party in New York and cast aside years of hard work climbing the political ladder.
Hmm. A public servant who serves the public to his financial and political detriment. Obama hasn’t cornered the market on nobility in public office after all. Examples of heroism through service are all around us; sometimes you just need to know where to look. If only Ackerman, Schumer and their colleagues took note.