The big local news last week was that Robert Wiesner - former county Water Authority official and husband of former County Executive Maggie Brooks - pleaded guilty to a felony charge related to a bid-rigging scandal. The big national news is the continuing strength of "outsider" candidates for president.
You don't have to look hard to see a thread connecting them. While the national election campaign is unearthing dreadful fear and ethnic hatred, many Americans are fed up with politics and government for good reason.
The details of Wiesner's case weren't a shock; we'd been reading about the bid rigging for eons. What was a shock - to me, at least - was that the state attorney general's office got a confession. Corruption in government - and in big corporations - happens so often, and the perpetrators wriggle out of the consequences so often, that many of us expect nothing better.
Other than having his name tarnished, Wiesner isn't losing much. The AG is out after bigger fish, and getting the lower ranks to sing is the way you do it. Wiesner will pay a $5000 fine, give up a $3000 discount on a home security system, and if he stays out of trouble for three years, that's it. He'll get his state pension, of course. Meantime, his wife - until recently the top county official and leader of the county's Republican Party - walked into a newly created position as a Transit Authority vice president.
If the Wiesner-Brooks story upsets us, we should remember that the bid rigging, which took place on Brooks' watch, had been highly publicized. As had such scandals as Robutrad, in which county contract workers did private work - including for relatives of county officials - while taxpayers were paying them. There was also the Brooks-appointed airport director who had to resign over his lavish "businesses expenses," including nearly $17,000 on cigars.
The community just shrugged its shoulders, electing Brooks to a third term in 2011 and, when she was termed out, dutifully electing the person Brooks' party had been grooming to succeed her.
I know: the vast majority of public servants are honorable, overworked people, right? The corrupters are just a few bad apples. But among the folks making the corruption headlines recently were the (Republican) majority leader of the State Senate and the (Democratic) Assembly speaker - who had had enough support from their colleagues to hold power for years.
The public isn't helpless; we could vote these folks out of office. But most of us don't show up at the polls. In the recent Monroe County election, when the county executive's position was on the ballot, voter turnout was 29 percent.
Maybe most of us are just too lazy to vote. Or maybe we don't think what we do matters. Or maybe we're so disillusioned by what we see that we don't care any more, that we've lost faith in the people we elect and in government.
It's probably a bit of all those, of course. But special interests with lots of money haven't lost faith, and they know that what they do matters.
If we care about the future of this community, and this country, we need to stop shrugging off these scandals. And maybe some of us have. Maybe we're ready to push back against the corruption, in government, in big business, in money's control of politics. Maybe, at least in part, that's what the surprising support for "outsider" candidates like Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Bernie Sanders is showing.
We can write off the Trump, Cruz, and Sanders supporters as stupid or unrealistic. But that's an insultingly shallow assessment. These voters know that something's really, really wrong. And they want to put a stop to it, not through extortion, influence peddling, bid rigging, vote buying, or other forms of corruption, but by exercising a fundamental, democratic right.
What about the rest of us?