Skip to main content

Corruption case a blow to GOP diversity

By Errol Louis, Special to CNN
updated 10:43 AM EDT, Wed April 3, 2013
U.S. District Attorney Preet Bharara lays out federal corruption charges against New York State Sen. Malcolm Smith and others.
U.S. District Attorney Preet Bharara lays out federal corruption charges against New York State Sen. Malcolm Smith and others.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • State lawmaker accused of bribing GOP officials to put him on ballot for New York mayor
  • Errol Louis: For a party trying to woo blacks and Latinos, the damage is incalculable
  • Louis: It could have started discussions about blacks always supporting Democrats
  • As it is, he says, scandal will hamstring next black or Latino GOP candidate

Editor's note: Errol Louis is the host of "Inside City Hall," a nightly political show on NY1, a New York City all-news channel.

(CNN) -- This is no way to run a party.

The details of the scandal sweeping the New York Republican Party are tawdry, sad and infuriating -- and a wake-up call to a national party that is urgently seeking to make inroads among black, Latino, and young voters.

Barely two weeks after RNC Chairman Reince Priebus and New York state Republican Chairman Ed Cox held a press conference at a black church in Brooklyn to launch the party's ambitious, $10 million diversity campaign, FBI agents arrested Malcolm Smith, a longtime black state legislator.

Errol Louis
Errol Louis

According to federal prosecutors, Smith spent months organizing cash bribes to two top city Republican officials in exchange for a slot on the ballot in this fall's Republican primary for mayor. Unfortunately for Smith, a real estate tycoon he enlisted to make cash payments was, in fact, an undercover FBI agent, according to federal prosecutors.

The criminal complaint against Smith and five others -- including a Republican City Council member and the chairman and vice chairman of two Republican county organizations -- details mind-boggling details of recorded conversations and alleged handovers of envelopes stuffed with money.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



All the scheming, say prosecutors, was done in the hope that Smith might secure the Republican nomination and somehow win the race for mayor in a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans 6-to-1. Smith will get his day in court, along with the five other men and women named -- but the damage to the party is incalculable.

In a 100-page plan of action, Priebus and the RNC laid out a pilot project to build support among black urban voters, and specifically declared that "big-city mayoral races provide our best 2013 opportunities for these projects." New York can probably be crossed off that list, and the fallout will be felt in other cities as the case unfolds.

And that's a shame. Republican leaders are right to make their case to young, urban, black and Latino voters, and should be grooming candidates from all communities. America's two-party system can't function properly if the parties are racially divided.

The flirtation with the Republican Party by Smith, a lifelong Democrat -- if done honestly -- might have started a new conversation within black circles about the cost and wisdom of always supporting Democratic candidates and policies. It has long been noticed that black communities contain their share of church-going social conservatives; the GOP theory is that intelligent outreach to those voters could tilt close contests to Republicans.

The next black or Latino Republican candidate will face the question: Are you another Malcolm Smith?
Errol Louis

That's not likely to happen now. Smith's troubles -- and the arrest of Republican leaders accused of taking money to advance Smith's cross-party ambitions -- will supply ammunition to conservative party leaders who are skeptical about the new diversity strategy.

The scandal also weakens the argument, popular among national Republicans, that big-city Democratic political machines are corrupt and wasteful. In New York, at least, the shoe is on the other foot, with GOP party leaders in the nation's biggest city hauled from their homes in handcuffs and facing up to 40 years in prison or more.

It now falls to New York's Republican chairman, Ed Cox, to straighten out this mess. Cox knows his way around a scandal: As the son-in-law of the late President Richard Nixon, he had a ringside seat as the Watergate debacle unfolded.

Cox must do whatever it takes to chase any crooked characters out of his party -- and try, against the odds, to continue Priebus' outreach strategy. Doing so will be a challenge, because the next black or Latino Republican candidate will face the question: Are you another Malcolm Smith?

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Errol Louis.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:37 AM EDT, Tue October 28, 2014
Errol Louis says forced to choose between narrow political advantage and the public good, the governors showed they are willing to take the easy way out over Ebola.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Eric Liu says with our family and friends and neighbors, each one of us must decide what kind of civilization we expect in the United States. It's our responsibility to set tone and standards, with our laws and norms
updated 7:45 AM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Sally Kohn says the UNC report highlights how some colleges exploit student athletes while offering little in return
updated 3:04 PM EDT, Sun October 26, 2014
Terrorists don't represent Islam, but Muslims must step up efforts to counter some of the bigotry within the world of Islam, says Fareed Zakaria
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Scott Yates says extending Daylight Saving Time could save energy, reduce heart attacks and get you more sleep
updated 8:32 PM EDT, Sun October 26, 2014
Reza Aslan says the interplay between beliefs and actions is a lot more complicated than critics of Islam portray
updated 7:19 AM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Julian Zelizer says control of the Senate will be decided by a few close contests
updated 8:12 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
The response of some U.S. institutions that should know better to Ebola has been anything but inspiring, writes Idris Ayodeji Bello.
updated 5:01 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Paul Callan says the grand jury is the right process to use to decide if charges should be brought against the police officer
updated 12:19 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Theresa Brown says the Ebola crisis brought nurses into the national conversation on health care. They need to stay there.
updated 6:35 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Patrick Hornbeck says don't buy the hype: The arguments the Vatican used in its interim report would have virtually guaranteed that same-sex couples remained second class citizens
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
The Swedes will find sitting on the fence to be increasingly uncomfortable with Putin as next door neighbor, writes Gary Schmitt
updated 12:32 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
The Ottawa shooting pre-empted Malala's appearances in Canada, but her message to young people needs to be spread, writes Frida Ghitis
updated 9:48 PM EDT, Sat October 25, 2014
Paul Begala says Iowa's U.S. Senate candidate, Joni Ernst, told NRA she has right to use gun to defend herself--even from the government. But shooting at officials is not what the Founders had in mind
updated 6:08 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
John Sutter: Why are we so surprised the head of a major international corporation learned another language?
updated 5:54 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Jason Johnson says Ferguson isn't a downtrodden community rising up against the white oppressor, but it is looking for justice
updated 12:21 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Sally Kohn says a video of little girls dressed as princesses using the F-word very loudly to condemn sexism is provocative. But is it exploitative?
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 10:14 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT