Here is an open secret in politics: Elected officials are only as effective as their staff.
And the golden rule during campaign season is that there is a clear line of separation for staffs working on the taxpayers’ dime in their official capacity and engaging in political activities for their boss. Sure, a staffer can do both, but the hours working on each must be separated.
Lately, it seems that state Sen. Marty Golden’s staff has let him down on all of the above.
Many newspapers have highlighted Golden’s “whiplash” relating to his changing positions regarding speed cameras by schools in New York City. Of course, politicians are entitled to change their minds, but Golden and his staff took it to extremes on this one. For years, Golden opposed speed cameras (whether it was because his cars kept getting tickets for speeding past them is open to discussion), then he flipped and supported doubling the number of them, then flopped late last month and joined state Sen. Simcha Felder in supporting a bill that would increase stop signs or traffic signals at school locations but pull the plug on speed cameras. Now, he has flipped again by urging the state senate to reconvene in special session to expand the speed cameras.
But a member of his staff clearly blundered when, after a heartfelt all-night vigil outside Golden’s Bay Ridge office last week by families of those who have lost loved ones because of reckless drivers, a communications aide lied to the public when he said in various press stories that his boss supported doubling the number of speed cameras — while Golden was supporting the legislation with Felder that would end cameras, and before his latest flip. These families deserved the truth about the senator’s current position, not word games from a lifelong political flack.
Even more disturbing, Sen. Golden’s official Twitter account attacked the grieving families in a tweet that said, “Aren’t there 2ppl who can call the Senate back? Flanagan and Cuomo? You’re out standing in front of the guy’s office who can’t? You people can’t even ‘protest’ properly anymore.” This tweet was quickly deleted.
Here is another inside politics secret: The elected official does not directly control his social media accounts, it is often left to trusted staffers. Who wrote this gem?
In another outrageous and unprofessional tweet from Sen. Golden’s account, his main Democratic opponent Andrew Gounardes was attacked.
On July 8 at 5:38 pm, the Golden account tweeted to Mr. Gounardes, “Yo angry Muppet, have you told the people you’re stealing money from that you are losing by 46 points?” Again, this tweet was deleted when someone realized that this was a political attack from the Senator’s official twitter account, @senmartygolden.
There is also the appearance that Golden’s staffers are using anonymous Twitter handles to attack anyone they perceive as a political opponent while on government time.
For example, nine minutes after the staffer in charge of Golden’s Twitter account deleted the message on June 28 about only Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan being able to call a special session, a similar tweet appeared on the anonymous Twitter account called South Brooklyn Red. That same account has also been used to attack others, especially Democrats.
Lurking in the shadows of anonymity and attacking individuals is in itself cowardice. But doing so as a member of an elected official’s staff is doubly bad and crosses the line between working in one’s official capacity and contributing to a mudslinging political campaign on the taxpayers’ dime.
Staffers should have the same professional and ethical standards as elected officials because we also pay their salaries. If they do not, it is up to the boss to make a change.
I don’t know how to explain the recent sloppiness of Golden’s staffers. It could be the pressure of Golden’s first legitimate re-election race, or just comfort by staffers who have been with him throughout his career in public office.
One of the pitfalls of being in the same position for so long is that it causes one to lose focus. In business, this is one the reasons retail chain stores often change managers every two years. The equivalent in politics would be term limits.
Perhaps, this is one more reason for term limits for all elected officials, and therefore, their staffs as well.
Bob Capano is the Chairman of the Brooklyn Reform Party and has been an adjunct professor of political science for over 15 years.