August 11, 2021

New York, Andrew Cuomo, and the six most corrupt states in the country


New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced his resignation on Aug. 10 after a state investigation found he sexually harassed 11 women. (Reuters)

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) announced his resignation amid sexual harassment allegations Tuesday, after which The Post’s Philip Bump provided a must-read piece on the sordid recent history of top New York politicians.

Bump summed it up accordingly:

The last three New York governors — all Democrats — have exited office amid scandal, with Cuomo and Eliot Spitzer resigning and David Paterson declining to run after replacing Spitzer.

Which got us thinking: Where does it rank on the list of most corrupt states? Three consecutive governors is quite the achievement, as are the scandals that have consumed New York’s broader executive government and legislators. As Bump notes, no fewer than four acting lieutenant governors who served under Paterson were ultimately indicted.Story continues below advertisement

Many attempts at discerning the most corrupt states have focused on the raw numbers of corruption convictions, but there’s certainly something to be said for corruption, scandals and resignations reaching the highest levels repeatedly, as they have in New York.

So, below is a more subjective review of some of the biggest modern offenders.

1. New York

New York has four major elected statewide officeholders: governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and comptroller. Since the 2006 election, 18 people combined have served in these positions, and 11 of them ultimately succumbed to scandals.Story continues below advertisement

This includes some double-counting, given that Cuomo served as attorney general and governor, and Paterson served as lieutenant governor and then governor. But even if you account for that, that’s nine out of 16 statewide officeholders over the past 15 years — a majority! Remarkable.

Beyond the governors and acting lieutenant governors, the numbers also include former state attorney general Eric Schneiderman (D), who resigned in 2018 amid his own sex scandal, and former state comptroller Alan Hevesi (D), who resigned in 2006 while pleading guilty to a felony for defrauding the government.

And it doesn’t even account for the full scale of scandal in the state legislature — including the conviction of the former state assembly speaker a few years ago — or the scandals in the congressional delegation, notably recent convictions of former congressmen Anthony Weiner (D), Michael Grimm (R) and Chris Collins (R). (President Donald Trump later pardoned Collins.)

2. Illinois

While New York governors are great at resigning due to scandal, Illinois governors might be the best at actually being convicted of crimes. Since 1961, the state has had 11 governors, and four of the 11 have wound up serving prison time: Rod Blagojevich (D), George Ryan (R), Dan Walker (D) and Otto Kerner (D). (Trump commuted Blagojevich’s sentence.)Story continues below advertisement

Other recent scandals ensnared a powerful Chicago alderman and several top state legislators, and former longtime state House speaker Mike Madigan (D) resigned early this year after being implicated in a bribery scandal. (Madigan has not been charged.) And that doesn’t include convicted former members of Congress: powerful former House Ways and Means Committee chairman Dan Rostenkowski (D) and former congressmen Jesse Jackson Jr. (D) and Mel Reynolds (D). Former congressman Aaron Schock (R) resigned amid his own scandal, but his felony charges were dropped thanks to a deal with prosecutors.

3. Louisiana

Former congressman Billy Tauzin (R-La.) often remarked that “half of Louisiana is under water and the other half is under indictment.”

And few can compete with the big names or the methods involved here. Former governor and senator Huey Long (D) set the standard. But it’s been picked up by former Democratic governor Edwin Edwards (whose supporters used the slogan “vote for the crook,” and who later actually did go to prison), former New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin (D) and former Democratic congressman William Jefferson (he of the $90,000-in-the-freezer infamy). Plenty of other names grace the state’s list of convicts in recent years.

There’s also the prostitution scandal that (eventually) ended the political career of Sen. David Vitter (R).

4. Alabama

The one southern state generally recognized as giving Louisiana a run for its money, Alabama has seen three of its last six elected governors convicted: Robert Bentley (R), Don Siegelman (D) and Guy Hunt (R). Its state House speaker, Mike Hubbard, was also convicted in 2016 and began his sentence last year.

5. New Jersey

This state might have fallen on this list somewhat in recent years, but its five-decade record and the nature of the scandals are tough to beat.

It was central to Abscam, with convictions of a U.S. senator, congressman and the mayor of Camden. Trenton’s mayor was convicted in 2014. Newark’s mayor was convicted in 2008. Sen. Robert Torricelli (D) dropped out of the reelection race in 2002 over a campaign finance scandal. Gov. Jim McGreevey (D) resigned in 2004 over a relationship with a man whom he had put on the state payroll.

Three mayors and two state legislators were ensnared in a large-scale “Bid Rig III” bribery scandal in 2009, which resulted in guilty pleas or convictions for the vast majority of defendants. And the prosecutor who brought that last case and used it to ascend to the governorship, Chris Christie (R), eventually saw his once-promising political career effectively ended by his own “Bridgegate” scandal.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) was indicted in 2015 but was later cleared.

6. Rhode Island

The subject of a great podcast series called “Crimetown,” Rhode Island and particularly its capital, Providence, have earned that nickname.

There’s Republican-turned-independent Mayor Buddy Cianci’s repeated convictions (and his ability to keep his political career going despite them). There’s former state House speaker Gordon Fox (D). There’s former governor Edward DiPrete (R). And there’s lots of other state legislators, mayors and city council members.

By Aaron Blake

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