Watt: Blizzard, Silver in storm’s eye

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By: Michael Watt February 9, 2015

January 2015 will forever be remembered for two storms: the blizzard that wasn’t (except for Long Island’s East End) and the downfall of New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. The takeaway from both: Words matter. Successful businesses understand this because they know their customers will hold them accountable.

Let’s start with the almost-blizzard. Somebody somewhere along the weather-predicting chain used “historic” to describe the potential this storm had for dumping snow on the area. “Historic” is a word that will get your audience’s attention when you’re a politician or a media outlet, and both entities ran with it. Somewhere along the line the qualifying word, “potential,” got dropped because to say “the storm has the potential to be historic” doesn’t get the heart racing quite like “the storm will be historic” does.

Unfortunately for our elected officials and media outlets, extreme measures are often necessary to get New Yorkers to do the right thing, such as staying off the roads during a weather event. The downside here is, if the storm doesn’t materialize as predicted, the next time they may appear as a “boy crying wolf.” The ramifications can be steep if that storm turns into another Sandy.

On the Albany storm front, what went unsaid in the immediate aftermath of Speaker Silver’s arrest was just as telling as what was said.

We heard more than one elected official, for instance, point out that Silver is entitled to the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, and rightly so. What wasn’t expressed was surprise and/or outrage that the speaker of the Assembly, one of the three most important leaders in New York State, could even be accused of accepting millions of dollars in payments from law firms. Ironically, the only person to use the word “shocked” was Perry Weitz, the founder of Weitz & Luxenberg, one of the law firms involved. He told the media, “We were shocked to learn about the allegations against him of impropriety in the referral of cases to our firm.” Kudos to Weitz if he kept a straight face while saying this.

If anything, the immediate, gut reaction of the majority of Assembly members was a show of support for their beloved leader. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio went so far as to refer to Silver as a “man of integrity.” I hate to think of who the mayor considers to be a scoundrel if omitting important facts on financial disclosure forms or spending hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to cover up the sexual misdeeds of your employees and colleagues constitutes a “man of integrity.”

The cosmic joke about Albany is that while it is often referred to as a political cesspool, the reelection percentage rate for representatives is in the high 90s. As voters we have only ourselves to blame for this mess. That’s why the words used by Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney at the center of the Albany storm, in a recent interview with Vanity Fair, ring so true: “When so many of (the voters’) leaders can be bought for a few thousand dollars, they should think about getting angry. When it is more likely for a New York State senator to be arrested by the authorities than to be defeated at the polls, maybe they should think about being angry.”

According to rocdocs.com, a journalist-driven watchdog website, none of the 38 New York State senators and Assembly members who have faced legal or ethical charges since 2000 are from Long Island. Clearly the region has been blessed with honest, hard-working representatives in both legislative houses in Albany. But their words and actions in the weeks and months ahead as this drama unfolds will tell you all you need to know regarding their desire to operate in a corruption-free capital.

At that point it is up to the voters to express their approval or disapproval. Your words matter. Use them.