The difference between right and wrong

March 3, 2010 1:26:44 PM PST
How hard is it to teach our kids about right and wrong when the people who are supposed to be role models for what's right keep doing things that are wrong?

Two people who are role models - or who are supposed to be - are now in trouble, politically and legally, for apparently falling short on ethics.

New York Gov. David Paterson, with a backstory that's admirable and awesome, seems to be playing out the string in a lead role of a Shakespearean tragedy. He's already under investigation for possible witness tampering and obstruction of justice, and now he's accused by the New York State Commission on Public Integrity of violating ethics laws when he received free tickets from the Yankees to the opening game of the World Series last fall.

If you're the Yankees, you damn well want the Governor in the crowd. But if you're the Governor, you damn well know you can't accept three tickets worth more than $400 each (behind home plate) without paying for them.

As is often the case with these sticky political situations, the cover-up seems to be as bad - or worse - than the original sin. The commission found that Mr. Paterson eventually paid for them, but only after inquires from reporters - and then he backdated the checks to make it seem as if he paid for them at the time.

Oy.

Mr. Paterson, an accidental Governor, insists he's not stepping down. But it's hard to imagine him, or anyone, surviving the political and legal mess he's in.

For the record, we have a strict rule here at WABC, and at ABC News: We cannot accept anything worth more than $25. It's a good rule. If we get tickets to an event, we pay for them.

The other mess involves Charlie Rangel, the dean of the New York Congressional delegation, and, until today, the Chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. He "temporarily" resigned as Chairman today, although there's no re-installation date, and it would surprise no one if it never happens.

Rangel's problems surfaced last year, and they show incredible lapses in judgment: living and working in several rent stabilized apartments in Harlem, using Congressional stationery to solicit corporate contributions to his academic center at CUNY, violating House ethics by accepting trips to the Caribbean paid for by corporations, and underreporting his net worth and income.

Rangel is the most likeable of a guy, who has - full disclosure - worked closely with Eyewitness News as something of a colorful political analyst at various conventions and in different situation. He insists all these violations were just lapses in reporting. Nothing major, he says.

But the pattern is hard to ignore.

My dad, like many of his generation, would often say behind closed doors when any well-known person got into well-known trouble, "Please tell me he's not Jewish."

It reflected the insecurity that came with being part of a persecuted minority - a feeling that life and public perception are tough enough for, in my dad's example, Jews, without having other Jews embarrass the entire religion by behaving badly.

I suspect there's a bit of that these days among some (especially older) blacks, with two of the most prominent African-American politicians in New York now in trouble.

I remember feeling, when my father would say that, that this hardly reflected on all Jews. Ditto today with Gov. Paterson and Congressman Rangel.

But if you're a member of any kind of minority - racial or religious or ethnic - you know what I'm talking about. And I suspect your parents felt the same way as my dad did.

We'll have the latest on both Paterson and Rangel's troubles, tonight at 11.

Also at 11, our entertainment reporter Sandy Kenyon is in Los Angeles, for the Academy Awards. His story tonight is hardly Oscar hype: He looks at the role ethnic minorities have - and haven't - played in the Academy Awards process. It's an interesting take. (CLICK HERE: Sandy also has a full section of Oscar-related material available on 7online.com.)

We'll also have any breaking news of the night, plus Lee Goldberg's AccuWeather forecast, and Scott Clark with the night's sports. I hope you can join Liz Cho and me, tonight at 11.

BILL RITTER


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