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Ringers, Wizards & Sinister Orange Fruit
December 7, 2004: The election turmoil in Ukraine should remind us how lucky we are. After all, our presidential candidates weren't named George Bush and George Bueshky. Or John Kerry and John Keretsko. So the race was easier to follow. The battle by Victor Yanukovich and Victor Yushchenko over the Ukrainian presidency also makes one appreciate our tradition of trying to come together after elections. Winners shouldn't step on losers' faces. Losers in turn, must choke back bile and smile. But lately, winners do the full bully boy while losers whine "you cheated". Is it a sign of devolved manners-- or political polarization? Or both?

In Ukraine, the threat of retaliation exists for supporters of the loosing side. Particularly if the loser is Yushchenko. Since Yanukovich has nearby Russia --and Putin-- on his side. In this country, only vituperation is aimed at those who vote "wrong". Still, it's lucky Mexico and Canada aren't Russia. In Ukraine, the presidential race is about major systemic change so the polarization seems proportionate. Whereas our knickers twist over god, guns and gays.

Off the beaten path of our last election, moves toward systemic change did occur. Take term limits. Pols hoped voters would. Across the nation, pols pressed ballot referendums that sought to overturn term limits. But voters overwhelmingly nixed a fixed-in- place political class. Machines must be scrambling to build up larger stables of stalking horses and ringers. Meaning more work for muckrakers. Will Hercules please come to the stable?

Middletown, New York, was one place where voters left term limits intact. So even if Mayor Joseph DeStefano isn't convicted of any of his 32 federal counts, he won't be mayor much longer. While in New Jersey, the citizens of Hoboken in Hudson County gave an anti Pay-2-Play ordinance overwhelming support. Despite stiff opposition from local political stiffs. Speaking of such, U.S. Senator Jon Corzine has declared he's in the running to be Democratic candidate for New Jersey governor in 2005. As has Bret Schundler, former mayor of Jersey City, on the Republican side. No big surprise in either case. Though claims by both to represent reform do make people go O!

Corzine and Schundler hail from Hudson County, one of the most corrupt counties in Jersey. Some say in the nation. With his political future in mind, Jon Corzine chose to move to Hudson County a few years ago. Due to its political clout. Corzine running as a reformer, after picking Hudson as his political base, is like a preacher trolling for sinners while sacked out in a ho house. If Corzine is elected governor, he'll be able to fill his then vacant U.S. Senator seat with whoever he chooses. A 12/03/04 NYTimes article (Corzine to Run for Governor of New Jersey) suggests Corzine's choice might be U.S. Representative Robert Menendez of Hudson County. Menendez (sometimes called "Boss") stands atop the Hudson machine. Though he's never done the perp walk plenty of close associates have wibblety wobbled. Menendez being anointed U.S. Senator by King Jon would be a thumb in the eye to anyone who hopes Jersey will clean up its political act.

Ex Goldman Sachs chairman Jon Corzine is a half-billionaire whose Wall Street connections still hum. Some point to his wealth as guarantee of incorruptibility: he wouldn't need the money. Those who think personal wealth spells public honesty misunderstand the nature of political corruption. Sure, money is important. But to some pols bribes only matter as signs of fealty. Power is the real prize. The hoary adage that power corrupts is still a golden rule. Absolute power, etc. Which is why limiting politicians' access to power is a quintessential act of reform.

As for Republican Bret Schundler as possible candidate for New Jersey governor, he'd have his own problems running as reformer. During the two terms Schundler was mayor of Jersey City (Hudson County's largest city) Pay-2-Play flourished like the green bay tree. Schundler likes to decry the corrupt "Democratic Machine" but tackling the issue of undue influence was never his bag. As his mega contributions from developers attested. X Governor Jim McGreevey left office largely because his image was eroded by Pay-2-Play scandals. Whoever aspires to be New Jersey's governor-- and its reformer-- will be met by opponents digging for pay dirt. So it would be best not to come bearing Jimbo baggage.

Over in New York State the demand for political reform is also being heard. As is the call of the 2006 governor's race. On December 7th State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer announced he was in the running to be Democratic candidate. A week earlier Spitzer held a press conference in Buffalo. Where he denounced the overall ethical failures of New York State government, plus the specific practices of the New York State Canal Corporation. A kinda-public-kinda-private state agency which under the administration of Governor George Pataki was supposed to revitalize the Erie Canal corridor. The Canal Corporation botched the job. According to a report filed by Spitzer and the NYS inspector-general, "favoritism and illegal ethical lapses" were to blame. Sadly, nobody can be prosecuted for the favoritism and illegal ethical lapses because the lapses "fell short of criminality". And though a few folks at the Canal Corp might get some penalties (ouch!) nobody in the state government can be punished because the involved parties are no longer in office. Spitzer however, is calling for closing the loophole in the Code of Ethics of the State Public Officers Law that lets former state employees get away with illegal but not criminal ethical lapses committed while in office.

It's certainly good to see Spitzer taking time off from mopping up Wall Street to give political malfeasance a swipe. Specially because you can hear vacuum cleaners roaring in nearby states. But since it seems as if no one but the public will pay for the illegal but not criminal ethical lapses that produced the Erie Canal fiasco, the Spitzer reform event in Buffalo felt curiously unrefreshing.

Talking Buffalo, a few years ago developer Scott Wizig was on that city's scene. Scott Wizig Enterprises was Texas based, but as NY Liberty Homes, Wizig was snapping up Buffalo slums at foreclosure sales. 281 properties in one snap alone. At roughly $2000 per. Wizig was a wiz at mortgage fraud mainly via illegal property flips and rent-to-own scams. Despite claims to be a revitalizer, the majority of his properties continued to deteriorate. Wizig made life hell for thousands of his tenants, the myriad low income home buyers he scammed and for the city residents who lived near his neglected properties. He also made millions of dollars. In 2003, Wizig was successfully prosecuted by Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and the City of Buffalo for hundreds of housing code violations, illegal leases and mortgage fraud activities. Wizig is now in prison. Oh wait-- he isn't. The City of Buffalo preferred to settle rather than litigate. And with the help of Eliot Spitzer, drive Wizig out of town. Spitzer did indeed hold Wizig's feet to a candle. In his 03/19/03 press release "Buffalo Developer to Reform Business Practices" Attorney General Spitzer lists the fines and business practice agreements imposed on Scott Wizig.

Alas, Wizig didn't take to house training. Instead he soiled the rug in Baltimore, Maryland. According to a 10/06/04 story by Gadi Dechter in Baltimore's City Paper (The Man Behind the Curtain: Buffalo's Biggest Slumlord Comes to Baltimore) Scott Wizig has been busy down south. Making life hell for thousands of tenants, myriad low income home buyers and for the city residents who live near his properties. Flipping slums and doing the rent-to-own thing as MD Liberty Homes. Plus, a 09/02/04 Houston Press story (The Specialist, Craig Malisow) says Wizig has been similarly engaged back in Texas. But New Yorkers need not feel cheated of Wizig's wizardry. Despite the City of Buffalo's claim they drove Wizig out of town, a number of his properties are in weird limbo. With mysterious owners who may-- or may not-- be masking Wizig. Other properties seem to have dropped off the books completely. While down in Syracuse, housing officials have bad things to say about properties owned by Mister Wizig. The ones managed by a guy named John Kiggins. Who back in 91 was convicted on federal charges for his part in a $1.4 million HUD loan scam involving property flips. Unlike Wizig, Kiggins did time. Albeit briefly.

Sinister Orange Fruit

In Ukraine, orange is the color symbolizing support for Victor Yushchenko. From a 11/30/04 discussion on the blog "Brunchma" comes the following story about Ukraine posted by "Alexandra":

"Yesterday afternoon Lyudmila (Yanukovich) made a speech...In her speech Mrs. Yanukovich said that the Yushchenko supporters in Kiev were not just dressed in orange, but they were eating lots of oranges too. Mrs. Yanukovich then said these oranges, however, are no normal oranges: they are in fact drugged oranges and this dodgy fruit is the reason why people are behaving the way they are at this moment (protesting in the streets, etc.) Mrs. Yanukovich said that these opposition protesters are all completely doped to the eyeballs on sinister orange fruit and now they're basically only interested in having one big non stop party all over the capital...Lyudmila Yanukovich's hysterical warning on these naughty oranges and the terrible things they make people do was all over the Ukrainian television and radio last night. I think blaming everything on drugged fruit is definitely an exciting new direction for political leaders (and their wives) everywhere."

You heard it here first! Well actually, on Brunchma...

Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

Brunchma Community Weblog

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Copyright (c) 2004 by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff. This material may be freely distributed subject to the terms and conditions set forth in the Open Publication License. This license relieves the author of any liability or implication of warranty, grants others permission to use the Content in whole or in part, and insures that the original author will be properly credited when Content is used. It also grants others permission to modify and redistribute the Content if they clearly mark what changes have been made, when they were made, and who made them. Finally, the license insures that if someone else bases a work on this Content, that the resultant work will be made available under the Open Publication License as well.

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