NEWS ANALYSIS: Sampson scandal: Corruption’s nothing new in Brooklyn

When bribery and corruption charges were filed against leaders of the Queens and Bronx Democratic Party organizations, including state Senator Malcolm Smith — many observers of the Brooklyn political scene were glad that Brooklyn party officials were not named — especially in light of past scandals.

Their feelings of relief were short-lived, however, when state Senator John Sampson was arrested on Monday and as charged by federal prosecutors with embezzlement, obstruction of justice and lying to the FBI.

Sampson, who became conference chairman of the Democratic Conference of the State Senate in 2009, basically kept out of the headlines. Entries in the Eagle files for him generally dealt with topics like taking part in a ribbon-cutting ceremony at a new building or speaking at a press conference on a non-controversial issue.

An Associated Press article from July 2010 that the Brooklyn Eagle published at the time praised Sampson for “bringing some sort of order to the chaotic legislature.”

“In the last few months,” wrote Michael Gormley, the author of the piece, “Sampson’s ability to transform his Democrats from a comedy of errors to a consensus of lawmakers surprised almost everybody in Albany. In the spring, he couldn’t get 32 Democrats to support a budget proposal when it was due.”

Ironically, one thing Sampson seemed to do quite well was to criticize and/or punish other Democrats. For example, in 2011, Sampson stripped state Sen. Kevin Parker (D-Brooklyn), who was convicted of felony assault after a scuffle with a photographer, of his position as conference “whip,” a person who helps round up votes on difficult issues.

Also in 2011, Sampson made sure that four dissident Democrats, including Bay Ridge’s Diane Savino, were excluded “from the process that allows the minority to shape bills, seek funding for their districts and attract campaign contributions from lobbyists.”

Regardless of whether the charges against Sampson are true or not, there has been a long history of corruption charges against Brooklyn Democratic officials.

Just last year, Assemblyman Vito Lopez (D-Bushwick) was forced to step down from his post as chair of the Brooklyn Democratic Party and was stripped of his privileges in the Assembly in the face of allegations of sexual harassment directed at several female members of his staff.

In 2011, state Sen. Carl Kruger (D-Southeast Brooklyn) resigned from his elected post and pleaded guilty to accepting bribes from a variety of business people. The bribes were funneled through two shell companies owned by gynecologist Michael Turano, described as a “family friend.”

Earlier, in 2004-06, four separate indictments were filed against the then-chairman of the Brooklyn Democratic Party, Assemblyman Clarence Norman. Norman was accused of stealing money from his election committee, falsifying business records and falsifying travel vouchers. He also demanded that judicial candidates in the 2000 Democratic Primary use a specific campaign vendor or else he would pull the party's endorsement of their candidacies.

In all probability, over the years, a political culture of tolerating corruption grew up in Brooklyn. In a surprise to many people, the new leader of Brooklyn’s Democrats, Hon. Frank Seddio, embraced some reform measures when he ascended to the post, such as doing away with the “at-large” delegates that Lopez had controlled.

Even before that, reform-oriented Democratic clubs such as the New Kings had begun to pick up steam. Hopefully, these efforts will continue.