Niagara Gazette reporter Mark Scheer has quite an interesting article up this morning about what sources tell us was a more-than-embarrassing evening for Dennis Virtuoso, the Joe McCarthy of the Niagara County Legislature.
It seems Virtuoso pursued his witch-hunt of County Treasurer Dave Broderick last night at a meeting of the Legislature’s Administration Committee, and came away looking like the aforementioned McCarthy, Elmer Fudd, and Wile E. Coyote all wrapped up in one.
Niagara Times will preface our comments with this note: We continue to agree with Virtuoso in principle about Dave Broderick’s handling of the public administrator responsibilities inherent in his county treasurer job. Broderick’s failure to accord transparency to that role has damaged his personal standing and his office. Likewise, we do not condone Broderick’s decision to award real estate work associated with the disposal of estates to his wife.
But we find Virtuoso’s McCarthyesque tactics even more damaging to the institutions of county government, and even more deserving of condemnation.
The problem with Virtuoso’s pursuit of Broderick has never been whether or not Broderick’s actions needed to be scrutinized: They do. But Virtuoso was never interested in justice. Virtuoso has been trying to bully a veteran officeholder into resigning his post at risk of his good name—a post that would then be filled by a governor’s appointee.
In other words, Dennis Virtuoso has been trying to use a witch hunt to overturn a democratic election and replace a Republican chosen by the voters with a Democrat chosen by David Paterson.
And that we can’t condone.
When Surrogates Court judges Sara Sheldon Sperrazza and Matt Murphy asked New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli to conduct an audit of Broderick’s practices in the wake of revelations that he had turned to his real-estate agent wife to dispose of estates on several occasions, the issue was both taken out of the county’s hands and placed in those of the appropriate body. The Comptroller’s office is obviously the best-equipped agency to scrutinize financial practices by an officeholder. It’s also the appropriate body given that the role of public administrator was itself assigned to Broderick by judges of a state-level court, and not a county court. Niagara County never had a legitimate oversight role. Niagara County’s government could no more investigate Broderick’s conduct of the public administrator office—a state-assigned office—than it could investigate the actions of a state trooper acting within its borders.
A level-headed reading of the law would have led any reasonable person to that conclusion.
And, indeed, from what Scheer reports, and a friend inside the county government tells us, that is precisely the case that County Attorney Claude Joerg made before the Administration Committee last night.
In the process, we are told, Virtuoso—who we’ll affectionately refer to as Tailgunner Dennis from now on—was rocked back on his heels, much like Joe McCarthy was 54 years ago, by another lawyer. Apparently, Tailgunner Dennis quite literally stuttered and stammered his response after Joerg read aloud a three page legal opinion that cited case law related to the public administrator office going all the way back to 1902. Scheer’s description of Tailgunner Dennis’s reaction is a bit kinder to the Minority Leader, but only slightly: “While Virtuoso bristled at the notion the county is required to continue to pick up costs related to Broderick’s estate work, Joerg suggested it is an obligation of the county based on the laws covering the public administration of estates. In essence, he said, it amounted to another unfunded mandate from New York state.”
Anyone who has ever seen Virtuoso in action knows that he once loved to denounce those same unfunded mandates from New York state. Well, at least until his party came to control every part of the state government.
We are also told that Joerg cautioned county legislators that the audit of Broderick’s office will likely result in a demand that the county treasurer of Niagara County provide additional services in the appointed capacity of public administrator—requiring even more time, energy, and county resources to be dedicated to this task. While it was not Virtuoso who initiated this audit, we can’t help but wonder if his—and his party’s—incessant fanning of the flames might have just made government more expensive for everyone living in Niagara County. Thanks, Dennis!
We agree with Virtuoso that Broderick has failed enormously in carrying out his office in the manner that the public expects. But unlike Virtuoso, we’re not ready to shred more than a hundred years of case law and the state constitution. Dave Broderick may have to answer for his failings in a Comptroller’s audit, and he may have to answer to the voters at the polls.
But he shouldn’t have to answer to a hyper-partisan and petty tyrant on a witch-hunt. That went out of style in 1954: