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 4:47 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery support the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
updated 2:17 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
updated 1:52 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
updated 1:10 PM EDT, Sat April 19, 2014
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
updated 6:26 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
updated 8:50 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Steve Israel is right: Some Republicans encourage anti-Latino prejudice. But that kind of bias is not limited to the GOP.
updated 7:23 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Peggy Drexler counts the ways Phyllis Schlafly's argument that lower pay for women helps them nab a husband is ridiculous.
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
updated 11:39 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT