Albany needs an ethics reboot

“‘Villains!’ I shrieked, ‘dissemble no more! I admit the deed! — tear up the planks! — here, here! — it is the beating of his hideous heart!”
— Confession of the narrator in “The Tell-Tale Heart,” 1843

You don’t get Edgar Allan Poe endings in Albany. But a guy can fantasize.

How about a Frank Capra: “I’m not fit to be a senator! I’m not fit to live! Expel me, not him! Every word about Taylor and me and graft and the rotten political corruption of my state! Every word of it is true!” — Sen. Joseph Paine in the final scene of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” 1939

Don’t hold your breath.

We learn this week instead of another dull, dry deposition coming down the pike in Albany. It will involve Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan), who might properly be described as dull and dry himself. He’s being deposed in a civil suit being brought against him by two women who allege that their former boss, former Brooklyn Assemb. Vito Lopez, was allowed to engage in a perennial pattern of unfettered harassment, including harassment of them, under the protection of the speaker.

No one knows how the case will turn out, but it’s safe to say there will be no Poe or Capra moment. There will be no cathartic confession, just dull, grey Albany attorneys squabbling over procedural issues behind closed doors until, perhaps, a settlement is reached.

That’s too bad.

The same could be said in the case facing state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Jamaica), or any of the other former and current legislators who have been indicted. Smith is accused, among other things, of attempting to trade his office’s influence for campaign contributions. But looking at Smith reveals not a trace of shame. He continues to prance the hallways of Albany like a sartorial peacock, even in the face of damning FBI wiretaps.

Silver and Smith enjoy the presumption of innocence of course, but in the past eight years, more than 25 state lawmakers have been convicted of crimes, censured or accused of wrongdoing. I can recall not one truly heartfelt confession, other than at sentencing time before judges. It’s as though errant officials have forgotten what’s truly right and what’s truly wrong. Wrong to them is getting convicted.

Catholics have the sacrament of penance. It’s what we ask for in the confession booth before re-emerging with our step slightly lightened. Confession has been historically disparaged by Protestants and others, but it performs a hugely important function, even from a secular perspective. Going to confession makes a person identify right from wrong in his own mind and soul. It makes him take full responsibility for his transgressions, not just to his creator, but to himself. And it acts as a reset button, like holding control, alt and delete on a computer keyboard.

Albany desperately needs that type of ethical reboot. Black and white no longer exist in our capital. There are only shades of grey.

William F. B. O’Reilly is a Republican consultant who worked on the Rob Astorino campaign for governor.