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It Really Does Matter How Politicians Behave

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Every time we hear the news that a politician has been caught breaking the law we can count on a number of responses to greet that news. These responses range from, “oh, he/she made an honest mistake” to “get that guy/gal out of office.” Somewhere though a breakdown has occurred in what the public official has understood about his or her trust by the people who have elected them.

In this new set of circumstances, Vito Fossella, (Republican Congressman from Staten Island) may be finding himself in a very separate set of circumstances. On the one hand we find Mayor Bloomberg excusing Congressman Fossella’s behavior as “an error in judgment.” This response comes from the mayor who has then gone on to say what wonderful things this congressman has done for his district of Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn. And that might be fine if the Mayor’s own words about drunk driving weren’t out there for all of us to read and be reminded of.


These were the Mayor’s words before a New Year’s celebration:

As it does every year, the NYPD will continue its drunk-driving enforcement on New Year's Eve through DWI patrols and checkpoints throughout the City. To date, the NYPD has made 41% more drunk-driving-related arrests this year than in 2003, and as part of the DWI Forfeiture Initiative, has also seized 2,074 vehicles from drunk drivers so far in 2004 - a 21% increase from last year. This has helped lead to a 31% decline in drunk-driving fatalities in our City this year, and helped us drive down the number of overall traffic fatalities to 287 so far in 2004 - the lowest year-end number of overall traffic fatalities since 1910 (sic).

In this kind of duplicity we find a conspiracy that says the law should be applied unfairly because of the status of the individual. Yet, in an era when we have been lied to about the reasons for a war and then going about that war in the most dishonest not to mention immoral way, a war which this same Congressman has supported, there is nothing suspicious about wanting to keep this Republican seat in the House during what may turn out to be a momentous change in direction in US policy on the entire range of issues both foreign and domestic. 

What kind of person is it who runs for office and then cannot find it within himself to obey the laws? Others have been vocal about Congressman Fossella’s run-ins with campaign finance laws. There have been a number of citations against him for misusing the campaign funds that were entrusted to him for his own personal enjoyment and entertainment. 

Further in the list of complaints one can cite against the congressman is his use of the word “embarrassed” when he came back to Staten Island to speak to his constituents about his arrest for drunk driving. Perhaps even more egregious is the fact that before even acknowledging his embarrassment, he made a disclaimer about the political nature of his embarrassment while hiring a high-priced political spin doctor to help him shape his “non-political message.” All of this adds up to what should be the realization that he is not fit to proceed in the work he must do in the House of Representatives because he has now to face ethics charges and a possible jail sentence.

In this do-as-I-say-and-not-as-I-do world that the Republicans have created for themselves to live in, it is always a surprise to them, I think, when they get caught by the reality in which everyone else has to live. The kinds of euphemisms we have become accustomed to from that Republican alternate reality is in need of being overturned and sent on its way from whence it came.  

When anyone breaks the law, thank you Mayor Bloomberg, they must also accept that there will be consequences, including in some cases a jail sentence. Life is hard but there is no reason that elected officials should be above the law. Rather, elected officials should be holding themselves to a higher standard due to the public’s trust in them to do the business of this nation in dealing with both war and peace and allocating funds of enormous proportions as well as ensuring the public safety and well being. 

 One has to ask oneself if you can trust a man who is not able to distinguish between his behavior sober and drunk. Is this the man you would want casting further votes that determine the public health and safety when he cannot even ensure that he will not put himself and others at risk because of his reckless and illegal behavior? 

That is the case against Vito Fossella. All the other charges and there are many flying around should be looked into but the basic one will always be about trusting an elected official who has the power to vote on issues of war and peace who decides to get behind the wheel of a car when he is drunk.  

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Deborah Emin is the founder of the publishing company, Sullivan Street Press (www.sullivanstreetpress.com). She is also the impressario of the Itinerant Book Show as well as the program director of the REZ Reading Series in Kew Gardens, NY. Her (more...)
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