The wacky little Caesars of Upstate New York

by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

Ho humdrum. It’s back to political bidness in the Empire State. The gubernatorial race ended just as predicted. Andrew Cuomo finally got elected to something. (Becoming attorney general on Eliot Spitzer’s coat tails doesn’t count.) Not that beating Carl Paladino is proof of public appeal. A friend of mine in Hudson County, New Jersey suggested that Andy’s dad, former New York Governor Mario Cuomo, hired Paladino. I gave this theory serious consideration. Hudson County knows good ringers. (Point of info for folks living in Eden: political ringers are fake reform candidates who divide or reduce opposition to the machine candidate.) But as the campaign devolved, I rejected the notion. Buffalo developer Carl Paladino is definitely his own man. Albeit of an easily recognizable type. In upstate political circles, wacky little Caesars are a dime a dozen. Some are truly extreme. Remember Congressman Eric Massa?

Until resigning in March 2010, Democrat Massa repped the gerrymandered 29th district. The 29th contains a hefty chunk of primarily Democratic suburban Rochester in western New York, plus a swath of the state’s more Republican Southern Tier. (The latter incidentally, has a particularly fine collection of Caesars.)

Massa resigned under a cloud of sex scandal that reeked of abuse of power; he allegedly had a habit of harassing young male staffers verbally and physically. Coming on crude and overbearing. (Similar stories surfaced about Massa as a Lt. Commander in the Navy in the early 90s. Officers of lesser rank who shared quarters with Massa recalled waking up at night with his hands all over them– or with his junk in their face.) The scandal was a big story because Congressman Massa claimed top Democrats had targeted him for extinction, smearing him with lies damn lies. Why? Because Massa wouldn’t sign on to ObamaCare; he wanted a single-payer system. Massa later back pedaled on the claim, most spectacularly on the Glenn Beck show.

Beck had Massa on as a guest for a full hour in early March, thinking he was going to tell ALL about corrupt, arm-twisting Dems. But Massa only talked vaguely of how big money (from unnamed sources to unnamed pols) was corrupting both parties. Massa did talk at length about his “tickle fights”. Which were being seen through a glass, lewdly. His pile-on gropings of staffers were merely the horseplay of a rough mannered ex-military guy.

Every time Glenn Beck tried to pry Democrat dirt out of Massa, he dodged with tickle fight talk. Personally, I believe Massa’s appearance on Beck was the point at which Beck went round the bend. Before Massa (BM) I sometimes agreed with Beck and often found him funny. Sure, his sharp bi-partisan satire was already segueing into lectures re a vast, astonishingly competent commie conspiracy. And the Holy Prophet thing was kicking in. But after Massa (AM) Beck’s head totally ballooned.

Mother of God– did Eric Massa pass along the imp of the wacky little Caesar? If so, Upstate New York owes Beck an exorcism.

As for X Congressman Massa, no need to fear for his future. Word is, he’s been snapped up by the TSA. (The TSA is a big contractor in the Southern Tier.) Look for him at your local airport.

Massa is an extreme example of a wacky little Caesar. (He may actually qualify as a wacky little Caligula.) But his assumption that bully fun is a perk of power, along with his tone-deaf narcissism, are typical of many players in politically airless upstate New York. Where decadence isn’t divine, just day to day mundane. It’s been bred into the region’s old boys (and girls) by hoary political  machines riding high in a post-industrial landscape of shrinking population. A sizable influx of civic minded residents might shake things up, but jobs that pay middle class wages are scarce. However, there is an influx of poor folks with substance abuse problems. They’re being shipped upstate to partake of one of the few growth industries. Halfway-Houses-R-Us! As an electorate, the poor and addicted are swell for political machines. What with their being so dependent on public money and all.

Speaking of being dependent on public money– and political machines– consider what passes for economic development in Upstate New York. Being Joe Doakes with a good idea for building widgets doesn’t cut it. Just try and build a few prototypes in your garage, Joe! Red tape and taxes will be on you like Eric Massa on a staffer. Meanwhile, when Widgetom Inc, a multi-national company supposedly headquartered somewhere in the USA, announces plans to build a facility upstate, they get the red carpet treatment from local pols, development officials, and New York’s quasi-public Empire State Development Corporation (ESD). In exchange for talking job creation and revitalization, and for stroking the egos and jazzing the war chests and vacation trips of assorted little Caesars, Widgetom receives tax breaks, public utility deals, EZ loans, and exemptions from environmental and land use regulations. Plus tons of taxpayer cash in combo platters of state and federal grants.

After several years of breathless local press coverage re Widgetom and the glorious revitalized future, Widgetom will announce that due to changing economic conditions and technological developments, the future will be smaller than initially projected. Maybe delayed indefinitely. However, a few more grants might just pull the rabbit out of the hat. Pols and development officials agree to stand and deliver. So much has already gone into the hat. The future of the region is at stake. Widgetom is too big to fail!

As for Joe Doakes, if he doesn’t flee the state, he may hew his way to a small business start-up. Heck, he might even get a few bucks from the local ESD funnel. (As long as his product doesn’t compete with Widgetom.) Tip 4 Joe: get cozy with your local little Caesars. Fealty can B fun.

Getting back to New York’s gubernatorial election, though numerous other states were able to field credible reform candidates of the Tea Party variety for major offices, the Empire State put forth Carl Paladino. An ultra wacky little Caesar whose real estate ponderosa in the Buffalo area is heavily dependent on state government contracts and ESD-based tax breaks. His bully in a china shop campaign style? I am what I am said Paladino. (Him and Popeye.) A rough mannered son-of-an-immigrant guy. At least Paladino wasn’t into tickle fights. He only emailed extreme pornography (woman w. horse) and puerile racist jokes to dozens of business associates, including ones with government addresses.

That Carl Paladino passed as a populist reformer in so much of upstate is a sign of that region’s decadent political condition. On the statewide front, the election of Andrew Cuomo, after no real race, is a like-minded sign. We New Yorkers love our Caesars. Be they little or big. As for the wacky, will Andy turn? Never say never. (See Eliot Spitzer.)

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