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 2:25 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Maria Cardona says Republicans should appreciate President Obama's executive action on immigration.
updated 7:44 AM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Van Jones says the Hunger Games is a more sweeping critique of wealth inequality than Elizabeth Warren's speech.
updated 6:29 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
obama immigration
David Gergen: It's deeply troubling to grant legal safe haven to unauthorized immigrants by executive order.
updated 8:34 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Charles Kaiser recalls a four-hour lunch that offered insight into the famed director's genius.
updated 3:12 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
updated 10:13 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
updated 8:21 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
updated 5:56 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
updated 3:11 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
updated 8:45 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
updated 8:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
updated 10:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
updated 12:59 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
updated 9:58 PM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
updated 4:41 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
updated 8:21 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
updated 7:16 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
updated 11:07 PM EST, Sun November 16, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT