Major kudos for the Niagara Gazette for getting it right with its editorial on Sean O'Connor's game to bilk taxpayers out of hundreds of thousands of dollars in free lifetime health care.
What's surprising is that Sean has always been known as a pretty reasonable guy, so all of this scheming seemed out of character. But sources have told us that O'Connor is willing to take these lumps to his reputation because he will hit a milestone in service to the state (30 years) some time next year that will enhance his retirement payout greatly. He doesn't care about the bad press because he simply won't seek re-election. We're checking into that rumor. If it's true, then O'Connor has truly disgraced his record of public service.
Niagara Gazette editorial:
OUR VIEW: O’Connor resignation breaks public trust
Sean O’Connor, the veteran Democratic Niagara County lawmaker from Niagara Falls, has resigned.
But he won’t stay inactive for long. We learned late Friday that he plans to return to the Legislature next week for his 21st year in office.
O’Connor announced abruptly last week that he was resigning from the Legislature — allowing him to preserve his lifetime paid health insurance benefits. The tactical maneuver allows him to be eligible for lifetime health insurance and retain his seat in the Legislature.
To be certain, there are political motivations surrounding this situation. Nearly a decade ago, the Legislature voted to restrict full health benefits to those with 20 or more years of service. More recently, under Republicans, it opted to force senior legislators taking office in 2008 to pay 50 percent of their premiums if they were sworn in Jan. 1. By resigning when he did, O’Connor becomes immediately eligible for free coverage, while retaining his ability to return to office next year.
He charged in a statement that the tactic by Republicans to threaten his free health insurance was aimed at getting him to retire, increasing their chances of gaining a seat and decreasing the number of minority Democratic lawmakers.
The Legislature’s new Majority Leader Jason Murgia shot back that several senior Republicans will likely face the same decision O’Connor did this election and that the move wasn’t based on partisanship but trimming county expenses.
We applauded O’Connor for deciding to run despite the personal cost. By resigning to keep the benefits then taking the oath of office, he will have misled voters in his district. He has, in effect, gotten his cake and eaten it too — then went to the doctor to have his cholesterol checked.
And by doing so, he is guilty of playing the same games he’s accusing Republicans of undertaking.
There’s a bottom line here: Whether the circumstances are fair or not, by deciding to run again, Sean O’Connor made a promise to his district and to Niagara County taxpayers that personal wealth was less important than public service. To renege on that now sends yet another message to voters that legislators are more concerned with their personal status than honoring a public trust.