The interest in soon to be former state Sen. Lou DeLuca has flagged, especially among news reporters, at exactly that point at which it should be most intense.
DeLuca announced that he was resigning last Wednesday, made a very pretty speech in which he once again admitted wrongdoing, and was as quickly forgotten as yesterday’s hasty pudding. Everyone went back to sleep, hardly noticing that nothing of any note, other than DeLuca’s resignation, had been settled.
Predictable people said predictable things.
Republican Sen. John Kissel said “It put an unfortunate chapter behind us.”
Sen. Andrea Stillman, a Democrat, offered that the conclusion would have been the same had the legislative committee investigating DeLuca completed its work.
Sen. Majority Leader Martin Looney, a Democrat, breathed a sign of relief. “Obviously,” he said, “the Committee will be concluding its work today.”
But of course. It was never the work of the committee to devise and implement procedural rules to prevent future legislators from declining to report that they had been bribed by FBI agents pretending to be associates of “trash magnates’ who were under investigation by the FBI. If the DeLuca affair had continued to its “predictable” end, the special legislative committee, having been forced to expel DeLuca, also would have been obliged to report to the senate as a whole their recommendations for preventing such actions in the future.
Sen. Edith Prague, one of the moral wide-awakes in the legislature, said that DeLuca’s “behavior and his willingness to use the power of his seat to help a man whom he knew was on the fringes of criminal behavior … is outrageous. You know, we have ethics in the chamber. We have a code of dignity and integrity.”
Some time ago, the code of dignity and integrity of the legislature was somewhat compromised by Prague and her dog, who left some droppings on the floor of the Legislative Office Building. Prague insisted that a guide dog had done the damage, even though she should have known that guide dogs do their duty on the command of their owners, always out of doors. Prague’s tale did not hold up against a security video film showing that it was Prague’s dog that was the culprit, a small matter surely, but one that did not enhance the dignity of the legislature. It was Sen. DeLuca who disclosed the film to reporters.
Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams was full of assurances. DeLuca, he said, assuredly would have become the first state senator to be expelled from the chamber for having conspired with James Galante, the trash magnate, to threaten Mark Colella, now the husband of his grand daughter, whom DeLuca had supposed was abusing her.
In leaving the senate, DeLuca said, “There’s a time and place for all good things to end. We’ve fought the good fight. Been true to our principles.”
Whatever principles DeLuca had been true to were lost in this shabby affair.
It has come time now for DeLuca’s comrades in the legislature to do the right thing. And the right thing would be to devise a rule that would rid the legislature of anyone who declined to report a bribe they had been offered.
DeLuca’s failure to report a bribe is the one undoubted action that should have precipitated a process of expulsion from the chamber. Everything else in this sad affair is subject to doubt. It may be doubted that DeLuca’s grand daughter was abused or not. The “help” DeLuca offered to Galante, DeLuca has said, was the kind of help any legislator might have offered to any constituent, doubtful as DeLuca’s claim may be. Among other doubtful claims, DeLuca has said he did not know the extent to which Galante was involved in organized crime. He also claimed that when he agreed to the “visit” Galante would arrange with Collela, he did not know the visit would entail violence.
All these claims and counterclaims are doubtful; indeed, all of them have been doubted in multiple news stories. The one undoubted assertion in all this smog of doubt is that DeLuca was offered a bribe, which he failed to report. This alone should be reason for expulsion. Had a rule requiring expulsion from office for failure to report a bribe been in place a decade ago, the process for expulsion for both state senators Ernie Newton and DeLuca could have begun at the first report that an unreported bribe was offered.
A rule of the legislature requiring expulsion for failing to report a bribe--any bribe--would affect behavior in the legislature in a positive way.
Speaking of a uniform code of ethics in the House and Senate, Sen. Edward Meyer, noting that lawmakers had for four years in a row refused to examine proposals to deprive state officials convicted of corruption of their pensions, was not sanguine. “I think that the General Assembly has trouble dealing with ethical issues,” Meyer said, “and would prefer not to deal with them and hope they go away.”