Corruption, Overreaction, and Fact-Free Politics at the New York State Senate

by Troy M. Olson

Jay_Gould's_Private_Bowling_Alley_-_Opper_1882
Jay Gould, political cartoon retrieved at wikipedia.com and in the Public Domain.

In our great country, there are three main regions: New York City, Los Angeles, and the Midwest. Politically speaking, if you value vaguely responsive, effective, and non-corrupt governance, you’ll want to be somewhere in the Midwest, or as the “Agreeing Loudly” podcast now calls it—Central Earth.

I grew up in the Midwest, the part of the Midwest that in comparison to many other states, has relatively good governance and relatively active citizen populace. In my home state of Minnesota, voter turnout and citizen participation is routinely the highest or close to the highest in the United States. I have been spoiled.

In so many ways, I love the new city and state I am a resident of, but politics are not one of those reasons. As a (mostly) partisan Democrat this may come as a shock to some of you since I am now living in a deep blue state, having moved from a lighter blue state.

However, New York State and City politics have a long history of corruption, kickbacks, and shady business deals. The most notorious example being the subject of the above cartoon, Jay Gould. Gould was a first Gilded Age-era railroad developer and speculator who was so successful with his politico to corporate “grift machine” that he became the 9th richest American of all-time adjusted for inflation. 

Perhaps you’ll recall the “Tammany Hall” political ring portrayed in Martin Scorsese’s 2002 film “Gangs of New York.” While Gould did not feature in this fictional story inspired by true events, his political contact and professional “grift machine”-hack friend Boss Tweed, the head of the “Tammany Hall” political ring, was in the film. Perhaps you’ll recall him handing “vote Tammany” flyers out to the Irish immigrants as they were coming to New York City in droves during the 1840s to 1860s. Tweed’s main political opponent in the film is portrayed excellently by Daniel Day Lewis as William “Bill the Butcher” Cutting heading up the nativist faction of New York politics. Xenophobia or professional “grift machine” robber barons? Not very good options and probably not what Thomas Jefferson had in mind when he envisioned a nation of enlightened citizens. However, this story is repeating itself in New York politics today.

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