The essential defense of the political corruption between the Onondaga County government and the Republican Party was twofold: (1) everybody does it and (2) we’ve always done it.
There was a conspiracy among county department heads to sell political fundraising tickets to all county employees, with the implied threat of job loss. The special prosecutor charged it had been done throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s; the defense countered that it had gone on long before that.
Jon Holcombe, who should have prosecuted this sort of thing when he was district attorney, in fact—
- Caused his assistant district attorneys to pay to the Republican Party $25 for every $1000 of salary they received.
- Was himself guilty of participating in the conspiracy.
- Resigned from office after pleading guilty to DWI in settlement of an indictment arising from having raped one of his secretaries—twice.
A commissioner of the Board of Elections admitted the conspiracy. There were meetings where Republican Party officials handed out tickets to Onondaga County government department heads to sell to their employees.
Only the county attorney lost his job; it was part of his plea deal with the special prosecutor’s office. A couple years into the investigation, it had become clear to the prosecutor that there would be no public outrage. The Syracuse Newspapers would neither fairly report the news nor editorially call for convicted public officials to be taken out of office. The county legislature gave the county executive a vote of confidence after his first conviction. That was reported in the newspapers.
Indictments were brought against 39 men, 36 of whom were Republican. The newspapers reported that the prosecutor was targeting Republicans, not that Republicans were corrupt. Everybody was involved—State Senator Martin Auer, County Executive John Mulroy, Republic Committee Chairman Richard Hanlon, District Attorney Jon Holcombe, Commissioner of Elections, County Attorney, Director of Purchasing, Deputy Comptroller, Highway Dept. Commissioner.
Richard Hanlon was—
- A reporter for the Post-Standard
- President of the Syracuse Press Club
- Deputy County Executive under John Mulroy
- Chairman of the Republican Committee
The boundaries were porous between news reporting, government and politics; they were all one big game where a person easily slid from one group to another—and they all were Republicans.
There was bid rigging. For example, instead of calling for heavy trucks to have a fuel capacity of 100 gallons, the specifications would call for one 60-gallon tank and one 40-gallon tank, thereby making only one bidder eligible for the contract—and that bidder would kick back 3% of the sale price to the Republican Party.
Bribes would be offered by insurance companies, not to men but to the Republican Party, in order to get contracts.
In short, from top to bottom, apparently throughout recorded history, the Republican Party and the Onondaga County government had been engaging in conspiracy, bribery and kickbacks to put the money from the taxpayers into the hands of the Republican Party so that Republicans could reelect Republicans to county offices and continue the cycle. And they did it all under cover of the darkness provided by The Syracuse Newspapers, whose publisher, Stephen Rogers, held power at least equal to that of County Executive John Mulroy and Republican Committee Chairman Richard Hanlon.
And the defense was: we’ve always done it this way, and everybody does it. And the juries bought it. The juries convicted on misdemeanors but acquitted on felonies. No lawyer lost his license to practice and, other than the county attorney, nobody lost their job. County employees who were victims of the political shakedown were threatened with job loss, but the bosses who criminally threatened them never lost their jobs.
I could not understand it. In their homes throughout the county, parents taught children the difference between right and wrong, and that they were to do right, but in the world of government and politics, men taught their employees that right and wrong were not relevant concepts. How could good citizens with good values in their homes be so oblivious to the wrongs committed by public officials? Was it all about the Newhouse News organization, owning local radio and television stations, and all the daily newspapers?
I got fired from the Syracuse Research Corporation and hired by a colleague from the Citizen Power/Civic Literacy group to work for the New York State Office of Mental Health. She quit and was replaced by another woman from Civic Literacy. We were a tight group, committed to each other through our commitment to certain civic values.
The year after my long journey through the court system, I broke down completely. I was depressed, suicidal, and admitted to a private psychiatric hospital where I lingered for 120 days and then was discharged as healthy; not surprisingly, my state insurance covered exactly 120 days of hospitalization.
In the following years, I did not complete my education, develop a career, get married or have children.
Instead, I was hospitalized on inpatient psychiatry about fifty times for a total of about three years. I attempted suicide about a dozen times, including one episode in 1999 that put me on life support for a month. And I took antidepressants every day for twenty-six years.
At one point, I rented a room from a landlord who chased me up the stairs screaming that he should stab me in the back. I beat a hasty retreat, thinking I was going to the home for women seeking shelter from domestic violence. Being completely naïve about the system, I ended up in the Salvation Army shelter for homeless women. A drug addict from New York City made me her personal victim, stealing food, money and clothes from me. A rat tried to claw its way up the bed I was sitting on.
By 1991, I was out of the shelter and becoming a wholly owned subsidiary of the government. I was on Social Security Disability and living in a HUD-subsidized apartment building.