Hempstead Town Hall was the recent site of an unusual event Tuesday - the official kickoff of the Caravan of Corruption, a statewide traveling sideshow highlighting corrupt politicians.
Presided over by flamboyant Ringmaster Charlie Vella, and complete with cardboard cutouts featuring cartoon caricatures of multiple New York public officials convicted of wrongdoings within the past decade, the Caravan featured a lighthearted poke at what its creators call a serious problem plaguing the state political system.
Jesse Laymon, Campaign Manager for Citizen Action of New York, said that the purpose of the Caravan of Corruption is to inform the public of the dark side of politics in a way sure to get their attention.
“We’re trying to draw attention to the last decade of dirty deals in New York,” he said. “Fifteen politicians in the last 10 years have ended up in jail for corruption. We’re trying to draw attention to this problem, and the need for reform.”
Laymon said the aforementioned reform should come in the form of an overhaul to the current election process.
“We need publicly financed, fair elections to be brought into play,” he said. “This would give people more of say in our electoral system, instead of having politicians raising funds and then being beholden to the needs of special interest groups instead of the people.”
Corrupt New York politicians parodied by the Caravan of Corruption include former Senators Pedro Espada, Joe Bruno, and Hiram Monserrate, in addition to twelve other public officials convicted of misdeeds ranging from embezzlement, bribery, and abuse of power.
Laymon said his group felt that, in order to make a statement, you need to get noticed. Thus, the Caravan of Corruption was born.
“We wanted people to have some fun with the sad history of New York and corruption,” he said. “A lot of people agree that we need reform, but they don’t rank it highly because it’s not that exciting. We’re trying to make it a little more exciting and make people see the nonsense of our current system, and how badly we need to change it.”
According to Laymon, recent allegations of official misconduct levied against Hempstead Town Clerk Mark Bonilla made Hempstead Town Hall the ideal place to kick off the Caravan’s tour, which will feature nine stops throughout New York State over a two-day time span.
“In each community that we’re going to visit, there’s usually a local way to tie it into the tour and its theme of corruption,” he said. “It helps us to decide where and when to stage this state-wide Caravan of Corruption tour.”
However, Laymon was quick to point out that Bonilla, who was arrested in September and charged with misdemeanors relating to sexual harassment claims made by a female subordinate, would not be inducted into the Caravan’s infamous hall of shame that day, as he has not yet been convicted of a crime.
Cesar Maluga made the trip all the way to Hempstead from West Babylon in order to find out what the Caravan was all about.
“We know that so many of these politicians are involved in schemes,” he said. “We need a new type of government, where people can be honest and represent the people, not a political party and the private interest groups. That’s my concern, and I’d like to hear more about it.”
However, when it came to the allegations made against Town Clerk Bonilla, Maluga’s stance was that someone accused of a crime is innocent until proven guilty.
“It should go to court, and we should see what actually happened,” he said. “Sometimes, people accuse other people, and at the end of it, we find out that they’re innocent. We should let the courts decide of Bonilla is guilty, and not try him by public opinion first.”