The New York Times - Editorial - October 9, 2005
The conviction of the head of the Brooklyn Democratic party for illegally soliciting campaign funds has not so far produced the salutary results that the public had reason to expect. By all rights, Clarence Norman's downfall should have prompted remaining party leaders to look deep within themselves and figure out how to reform the way they do business in Kings County. There's plenty to be done, beginning with the way the party leaders hand out judgeships like party favors. But the response to Mr. Norman's disgrace has been more business as usual.
The party machine is expected to approve a new leader drawn from its old guard, which generally regards reform the way Dracula looks at a wooden stake. The leading contender is Vito Lopez, another assembly member, who already tightly controls his own local political faction in his part of the borough. It is a testament to Mr. Lopez's power that few party regulars dare criticize him openly. Questions have also been raised about reimbursements that Mr. Lopez has accepted for use of his vehicle. That is no minor matter -- a violation on travel reimbursements cost another Brooklyn legislator, Roger Green, his assembly seat and Mr. Norman faces a similar charge. Mr. Lopez dismissed the allegations, reported last week by the Village Voice, as unfounded.
If Mr. Lopez becomes chairman, there is little chance that Brooklyn will make any progress in ending the system in which judgeships become political payoffs regardless of the merit of the appointments. During Mr. Norman's watch, the craven nature of clubhouse politics was on open display. Want to be a surrogate judge, a lucrative appointment that handles wills and estates? Join the club -- literally -- and become a loyal foot soldier. That's how Michael Feinberg got the job, at the behest of Mr. Norman, until he was removed from the bench for improperly steering millions of dollars in fees to a pal. The situation calls out for timely intervention. Yet instead of stepping in the state's leading Democrats have been silent . Shame on them all. Sheldon Silver, Denny Farrell, Bill Thompson, Eliot Spitzer, Chuck Schumer, Hillary Clinton -- none has interceded on the side of good governance and tried to save the party from itself.
The corruption that has robbed Brooklyn of the honest politics and the courts it deserves predates Mr. Norman and will not end with him unless there is fundamental change. The cynical deals, power grabs, and money grubbing -- wherever they occur -- are a major blot on New York City's civic life. It has also contributed to the Democrats' inability to recapture City Hall, despite an overwhelming 5-to-1 advantage in registered voters. Mr. Norman's departure is a real opportunity for the local party to get things right. Sadly, in the tightly guarded world of Brooklyn politics, his successor will almost certainly try to perpetuate the status quo. Reform, if it is to come, requires a blossoming of a genuine reform movement among rank-and-file Democrats. In the meantime, top state and national Democratic leaders should not ignore the spreading stain.