Has Politics Been Criminalized?

American politics has always been a full-contact sport. But it has crossed a line in recent years. It is now less like sport and more like war.

I know, of course, that even in the late 18th century there were high-pitched political battles. In fact, in 1804, the most dramatic of these resulted in the death of Alexander Hamilton in a gun duel with his political enemy, Aaron Burr, right across the Hudson river in Weehawken.

Despite our lax gun control laws, we no longer have gun duels to settle political battles. Instead, however, we have weaponized law enforcement and unleashed ambitious investigators and prosecutors to take down our elected leaders.

This has been evident both in our recent presidential election as well as in New York's city and state government. Think about it: wasn't the FBI director James Comey a key factor in the demise of Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign? Didn't Trump and his hyped up rally audiences constantly chant: "Lock her up!"?

We usually read about non-democratic and authoritarian governments that lock up political opponents. How did we sink so low into "Banana Republic" territory?

Even in New York, a relatively progressive state, we are witnessing potential prosecutorial overreach. For the past few months, everyone on the inside of New York City politics has been buzzing about the potential indictment of Mayor DeBlasio and/or a number of his key aides. Many people in recent days have told me that the results of two grand juries that were empaneled for investigations of the administration's political activities is imminent.

Although I am skeptical that any of this will be fatal to the mayor's re-election chances, there is still a dark cloud hanging over him and a few potential competitors are anxiously awaiting the U.S. and District Attorney's decision.

In our scandal-scarred state government in Albany, we have recently witnessed the indictments and convictions of two of the three most powerful elected leaders in the state -- Speaker Sheldon Silver and Majority Leader Dean Skelos. This came after a dozen convictions of legislators in the past decade in addition to the recent indictment of a close aide to the Governor.

Does power corrupt, as the old saying goes, or have we criminalized politics to the point where every elected leader should wear a wire and be considered a prime suspect for some malfeasance?

There's no easy way to answer this. Yes, absolute power corrupts absolutely as we saw in the case of the 20-year reign of Sheldon Silver. Yes, large campaign donations to elected leaders can lead to favoritism and quid pro quos that certainly cross a line too frequently.


Houston, we have a big problem when Hillary Clinton's ill-advised use of a private server for privacy reasons results in calls for prosecution and jail time. When the mayor of New York City can't engage in partisan politics to aide Democratic candidates for the State Senate without being accused of campaign finance fraud.

Don't get me wrong -- we need vigilance to keep politicians straight and bold prosecutors to pursue justice when they're not.

But we have reached a tipping point when almost every political action results in an investigation. When prosecutors leak to the press the empaneling of grand juries to investigate elected leaders.

We are living in strange and dangerous times politically.

It is high time we call off the political wars and weaponized investigations and let government focus on improving society and building for the future.

Let's call a political ceasefire.

Tom Allon is the president of City & State. Questions or comments: tallon@cityandstateny.com