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 6:25 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
updated 11:10 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
updated 8:45 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
updated 9:49 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
updated 6:05 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
updated 7:42 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 2:53 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 12:37 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT