COMMENTARY: Public Officials Continue to Redefine Acceptable Standards of Conduct.
By: Charles G. Slepian, Esq.
Founder, Foreseeable Risk Analysis Center
May 5, 2014
I was born, raised and educated in New York City. From grade school through graduate and law school, if I didn’t walk to school, public transportation carried me back and forth from home. After my 50 birthday, we moved to Oregon and I began dividing my time between New York and Portland and I continue to do so. It should be noted that I was sent to Oregon originally while working for New York Mayor John Lindsay back in 1968, and I developed ties that I remain unwilling to break, but that is another story for another time.
I take great pride in being a son of both states, very similar in some ways yet so different in others. I am a product of the politics of both too, having been involved in their politics, and sharing moments of pride and shame in the administration of Mayor Lindsay in New York and discussing issues of growth and development with Oregon’s governor Tom Mc Call. I have also shared the sting of politically based charges against a family friend, Senator Bob Packwood while witnessing how vulnerable even great men such as the three I have named here are not immune from the wrath of a vengeful public. I have been privileged to share some of the trials and tribulations of other political figures on local and federal levels as well, and to work in campaigns in a number of states doing what I did best, introducing candidates for election to their voters in the neighborhoods where they live and work.
It is from that background that I feel compelled to speak out about an obvious shift in our political system from a focus on duty to the public to whom our politicians are pledged to serve, to a more cynical approach, focusing on winning campaigns at all cost even to the extent of reckless abandonment of oaths of office. Venality on the part of elected officials is certainly not a new phenomenon but it appears to me that in the past avarice, greed and lust alone, without any attempt to either justify the bad conduct or even to conceal it despite the consequence of exposure was considered a matter of greater concern to both the errant official and his or her constituents than is now the case. When exposure is inevitable and denial alone of the offensive or illegal conduct in not working, relying on an available loop-hole in the law to claim that no crime actually occurred and thereby by render what is obviously criminal or unethical as harmless or trivial, is a clever course to follow, if you are not too sensitive to questions and morality.
Although reliance on loop-holes in the law to transform what is clearly unacceptable conduct to acceptable is a time – honored tradition; I have neither the time nor the will to engage in a fight to preserve or destroy it, nor do I believe it an issue of more than minor concern to a nation dealing daily with issues of chaos and corruption. What concerns me more is the willingness of public officials to avail themselves of these free passes to break the law, or at least their promise of honorable public service, while demonstrating their lack of character and disregard of their duty to the public for the honorable performance in their elected or appointed office
The conduct of public officials engaging in law violations seems to be at levels greater than I can remember. In New York State over the past 7 years,18 members of the state legislature from both parties and both houses including the Democratic Assembly Speaker of the House and the Republican majority leader of the Senate, have been convicted on federal bribery and fraud related charges with a sentence of 12 years imposed on the Assembly Speaker. In almost every case in which an appeal has been filed, sentencing judges are inundated with letters from friends, family members, and members of the clergy asking for leniency and claiming the basic good character of these newly convicted federal felon seeking compassion from the Court and a public for whom they demonstrated only contempt.
It should be an ongoing matter of shame that the very men and women who write our laws and lobby for the inclusion of loop holes to benefit themselves and other public officials so that they will not be burdened by the legislation they have written, find themselves the victims of their own misconduct in office. It is not ignorance of the law that has been the source of their down fall but rather their arrogance in thinking they were insulated, separate and apart from the prohibitions and penalties of the laws and regulations they turned their backs to.