Race and Corruption

Both the State Senator, Dianne Wilkerson, and as of yesterday, our City Council member, Chuck Turner, have been accused by federal prosecutors of taking bribes and then lying about it.  Both were caught on tape in sting operations.   Chuck is a neighbor.   I know both and have worked with them on various projects including constituant services.  I have supported their campaigns.  So this is a major shock.  I have mixed feelings and a lot of questions about the situation. 

First, there is the question of how much we can trust the Boston FBI office.  This is the office that had agents in bed with the Winter Hill Gang and James Bulger.  One agent has just been convicted of murder and will probably finish his life in prison.  So when they produce evidence that two black politicians representing the largest concentration of African-Americans in the City of Boston I have to feel to some degree that this is racial, a singling out of two office holders who are black and trusted by the community.

Second, assuming that this was a trap set by the FBI why would either of these two intelligent people walk into the trap?  Have they taken bribes all along and just happened to get caught this time?  Why didn’t they refuse the offered money?

Third, why are they being prosecuted when the current Speaker of the House, Sal DiMasi, is suspected of rigging a state contract bid so a friend could benfit?  I do know the answer to that one:  The investigation of that situation is on-going with it just having been turned over to the Attorney General.

Finally, I want someone to do a study of all the African-American officials nationwide and through the last 40 years who have been brought down by scandal.  There has to be more than selective prosecution because of race.  Is there some feeling of entitlement that develops once they have been elected?  And they are all smart people who should have been able to learn from history.

The following quote from Chuck Turner in an interview conducted prior to his arrest which will be published in the Boston Globe Magazine tomorrow as part of a column by Tom Keane  I find troubling.

From an ethical standpoint, I don’t think the vast majority of Congress should be allowed to sit. Ethics should include a commitment to the needs of the people of this country which the Congress has not displayed. Given the fact that all our state governments and the federal government is controlled by money, I think it is hypocritical to talk about ethics when you talk about our political leaders or our business leaders, religious leaders, etc.

Its time for Americans to admit that ethics never have had a significant influence on American politics. If Americans cared about ethical behavior, why did slavery last for two hundred years and neo slavery last for another two hundred? Why does America have the weakest laws in the Western World to protect a working person right to have a fair return on their labor. Why were the Irish treated as animals when they were driven to America by the politics of the English ancestors of the Yankees who treated them as if they were black when they were driven here. I’m surprised Tom. I didn’t think you were in denial of the reality of the moral depravity of this country.

Is Chuck really saying that because the political system is controlled by money rather than by higher moral principles a green light to take a bribe?  Is this the “everyone else does it” excuse?

Yes, there is money in government.  Money gets spent and contracts get let.  That is how governement gets things done.  If he is talking about the election/campaign system being corruptive, there is truth there.  But I’m not sure that money is the only reason slavery persisted and is not the only reason government often fails to act.  Is the real issue that Turner and Wilkinson are still trapped in a world that sees everything as racial, everything though the eyes of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s while the world has moved on?

The Boston Globe quoted several young men who are likely to run for Turner’s seat.  Ego Ezedi, Carlos Henriquez, and Scotland Willis have all run unsuccessfully for City Council.  All expressed the same general idea that maybe it was time to move on.  That maybe it was time to stop looking constantly through a racial lens.  Ezedi in particular looks to Barak Obama:

Ego Ezedi, the executive director of the Roxbury YMCA who ran unsuccessfully for the City Council in 2003, said: “I am not a black politician. I have never represented myself as that. I’m a public servant who happens to be black.

“This is not a black-white issue; it’s an ethics issue,” he said of the arrests of Wilkerson and Turner.

Ezedi added that he draws more inspiration from the way Barack Obama’s campaign energized younger voters. “It’s important for all of us to transcend boundaries of race when it comes to politics,” he said, “and what better time than now, especially when you look at what’s happening nationally?”

Does Experience Matter?

Rachel Maddow expressed concern the other night about whether or not putting so many Clintonites into the Obama White House was really change.  She had as a guest, Malcolm Gladwell, who explained a theory I had not heard of before.  Gladwell thinks that in order to get mastery of anything  – playing the piano, writing, managing, etc. – one needs, on average, 10,000 hours of practice.  So if we want cabinet secretaries and White House staff who can begin work immediately what choices does Obama have?  He needs to turn to Democrats who worked in some capacity either in the Clinton/Gore administration or have experience on the Hill.  I think we need to remember that whatever policies they carried out in the past, they will now be implementing Obama policies.  Gladwell points out in the interview that the ideal would be a mix of neophytes  and experienced hands.  I will have to get a copy of one of his books like The Tipping Point or his newest, the Outliers.

I’m not as invested as some on the left in seeing him create immediate radical change – and I’m not certain what exactly that would mean.  For me, just having a President who speaks in complete sentences is a radical change.  Just having a President who can listen to various points of view and distill them into a plan of action is a change.  

And we have the Clinton lesson of gays in the military as an immediate action which got Bill off on the wrong foot.  To say nothing of the health care fiasco.  So moving slowly is OK with me.  I agree with Amy Goodman that Executive Orders can set the tone and it would be wonderful if President Obama’s first was to outlaw torture.  A good message internationally as well as domestically.  It is one on which even Republicans (who still deny they engaged in the practice) could agree.