When the Feds let Political Machines use smooth transitions of power to avoid accountability
Will the Queens Machine be able to avoid the consequences of a long of corruption, so long as it puts into effect a smooth transition of power to another Congressional lawmaker ? Photo Illustration/Progress New York

Some mob families have succession plans. So does the Queens Machine.

If Grace Meng succeeds Joe Crowley as boss of the Queens Machine, the biggest loser will be movements for reform and accountability.

By the Editorial Board

Nothing happens in Queens County politics without the express permission of U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY 14), who is now out-going due to a firstly inconceivable, yet lastly actual, primary election loss to insurgent candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. With the days of his express hold on political power now numbered, there has been pressure on U.S. Rep. Crowley to give up his control over the Queens Machine, as the Queens Democratic Party county committee is informally known. U.S. Rep. Crowley’s plan for succession for the chair of the Democratic Organization of Queens County, as the Queens Machine is more formally known, is for an underboss of his own making to become the new boss of the Queens Machine. That underboss, U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY 06), telegraphed in establishment press her willingness, if called upon, to succeed U.S. Rep. Crowley as chair of the Queens Machine. U.S. Rep. Meng was made the junior ranking Congressional lawmaker in Queens after U.S. Rep. Crowley, as “Queens County’s power broker,” helped to elect her as the “first Asian American elected to the House of Representatives from the East Coast,” a political move to which U.S. Rep. Crowley admitted in his only televised debate with Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, according to a report published by POLITICO New York.

As Federal law enforcement, including agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, follow the activities of the Queens Machine, it is not known if the Feds will countenance a transition of power from Boss Crowley to Underboss Meng. For reports published by Progress New York, the FBI, who act as the chief investigatory partner of the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices in New York, kept mum.

In the past, the Queens Machine avoided accountability for its pattern of corruption by transferring power from the Queens Beep to a Congressional lawmaker.

Against a backdrop of a power struggle within the neoliberal Democratic Party to make elected officials answerable to voters instead of to Big Money donors, the Feds have yet to decide whether a Queens Machine kept unaccountable for decades of corruption is healthy for democracy. A recent precedent that permitted a transition of power to contain potentially disastrous political fallout from a wide-ranging, Federal corruption investigation was observed in the mid-1980’s, when the late, former Borough President Donald Manes (D-Queens) was succeeded as Queens Machine chair by U.S. Rep. Thomas Manton (D-NY 09). U.S. Rep. Manton claimed that his leadership was intended “to stabilize a great organization and put it back on track,” according to a 1989 report published by the New York Times — not too dissimilar from U.S. Rep. Meng’s offer “to make the Queens Democratic organization a stronger organization and one that has even better outreach,” according to the interview she granted to an establishment media outlet.

Since the emergence of a Queens faction of activists, who have sought some electoral replacement of leaders within a Democratic Party that has a strangle-hold on power in Queens, the effort to win fundamental democratic reforms appear limited, particularly since the faction closely associated with Ms. Ocasio-Cortez are deliberately stopping short of calling for a restoration of integrity in the Queens District Attorney’s Office and in the Queens County court system. If the Queens Machine is allowed to exist largely intact under a new boss, it will be because the Feds and electoral change activists will be willing to accept a smooth transition of power as a trade-off for continued political corruption, much like how the Government has countenanced the peaceful transition of power between mob families. Any political transfer of power that lends legitimacy to the many ways that the Queens Machine has been allowed to corrupt important Government functions will fail to restore the public’s dwindling faith in public institutions.

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