Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Tammany McDonald

When bright-eyed reformists of the early 1900’s were making a stab at political reform, George Washington Plunkitt of Tammany Hall gave an interview with news reporter William Riordan and, making what he thought was a necessary distinction between “honest graft” and the usual garden variety, spilled the beans, as they say in the now smokeless filled rooms where political friends still scratch each other’s backs.

“Everybody is talkin' these days about Tammany men growin' rich on graft, but nobody thinks of drawin' the distinction between honest graft and dishonest graft. There's all the difference in the world between the two. Yes, many of our men have grown rich in politics. I have myself. I've made a big fortune out of the game, and I'm gettin' richer every day, but I've not gone in for dishonest graft--blackmailin' gamblers, saloon‑keepers, disorderly people, etc.--and neither has any of the men who have made big fortunes in politics.

“There's an honest graft, and I'm an example of how it works. I might sum up the whole thing by sayin': 'I seen my opportunities and I took 'em.'  Just let me explain by examples. My party's in power in the city, and it's goin' to undertake a lot of public improvements. Well, I'm tipped off, say, that they're going to lay out a new park at a certain place.

“I see my opportunity and I take it. I go to that place and I buy up all the land I can in the neighborhood. Then the board of this or that makes its plan public, and there is a rush to get my land, which nobody cared particular for before. Ain't it perfectly honest to charge a good price and make a profit on my investment and foresight? Of course, it is. Well, that's honest graft."

And here is Mr. Plunkitt on the value of political friendships:

"I've told you how I got rich by honest graft. Now, let me tell you that most politicians who are accused of robbin' the city get rich the same way. They didn't steal a dollar from the city treasury. They just seen their opportunities and took them. That is why, when a reform administration comes in and spends a half million dollars in tryin' to find the public robberies they talked about in the campaign, they don't find them.

"The books are always all right. The money in the city treasury is all right. Everything is all right. All they can show is that the Tammany heads of departments looked after their friends, within the law, and gave them what opportunities they could to make honest graft. Now, let me tell you that's never goin' to hurt Tammany with the people. Every good man looks after his friends, and any man who doesn't isn't likely to be popular. If I have a good thing to hand out in private life, I give it to a friend. Why shouldn't I do the same in public life?”
Someone in Connecticut – likely NOT in the Malloy administration – should give Dave Altimari of the Hartford Courant this year’s William Riordan award for honesty in Tammany Hall reporting.

Here is Mr. Altimari’s opener for a story on the “honest grafters” in the Malloy administration:

“As Pullman & Comley attorney John Stafstrom walked into a room to pitch his law firm's proposal to win a lucrative contract with the Connecticut Airport Authority, it was unlikely he worried about receiving an unfriendly reception.

“Sitting across from his six-member team at the Jan. 31 interview was authority member Charles R. Gray, a longtime friend who attended Stafstrom's wedding in June 2010.

“Gray attended with his spouse, Andrew J. McDonald, who at the time was a partner at the Bridgeport law firm and is now Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's general counsel. McDonald, in his capacity as a justice of the peace, married Stafstrom and Dennis Murphy, who went on to become the deputy commissioner of labor in the Malloy administration.”
Soon after Mr. McDonald was safely ensconced as Mr. Malloy’s general council, the lawyers at his former law firm, Pullman & Comley, saw their opportunities and took’em.

In vain will other lawyers and political watchers scout out illegalities in an insider arrangement that speeds cash from the state coffers to Pullman & Comley, the loamy and fertile political nursery bed from which Mr. McDonald sprang: “The money in the city treasury is all right. Everything is all right. All they can show is that the Tammany heads of departments looked after their friends, within the law, and gave them what opportunities they could to make honest graft.”

The books will be in order.

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