His mentor, Flake, has amassed a church and real-estate empire since leaving Congress, while Smith’s prospects and career became marginal. Maybe that’s part of why instead of being chastened by his brushes with indictment, Smith seems to have become more brazen. Because there he sat, in his parked car in Rockland County, in January, talking through a goofy plan to get on the Republican ballot. Smith was warned that the deal would cost “a pretty penny.” He didn’t seem to hesitate. “But it’s worth it,” he allegedly replied. “Because you know how big a deal it is.” Though it is his alleged co-conspirator, Halloran, who contributed the signature line of this charade: “You can’t do anything without the fucking money,” Halloran told a witness cooperating with the FBI’s operation. “That’s politics.”
New York adds some other toxic elements to the mix. In the State Legislature, practically lifetime tenure combined with an absence of real responsibility are perfect petri-dish conditions for the growth of creatures like Smith and Bronx assemblyman Eric Stevenson, who was arrested last week in a separate case and charged with accepting bribes to help the developers of adult-day-care centers. Maybe the greed is abetted by boredom: Being a state legislator is a part-time job. “People have incredibly comfortable incumbencies, and so they get cocky and start looking for other things to do,” says Basil Smikle, a Democratic strategist who ran for a State Senate seat in 2010, losing to entrenched incumbent Bill Perkins. “The temptation becomes to get a little extra. It’s not even about the money, really.”
Tabone, Halloran, and Smith deny the current allegations. For Smith, there’s no escaping the ridicule provoked by his mayoral fantasy. But where might the senator have gotten the funny idea that a ballot waiver could be bought? Well, in 2009, running for City Hall as an independent, Michael Bloomberg gave more than $400,000 to the city’s Republican county organizations, his name appeared on the GOP line, and he won reelection. Highlighting the all-important difference between an alleged bribe and a legal gift.