Nepotism comes from the Italian word for nephew – il nipote – and the modern day definition of granting jobs based on favoritism dates to at least the 17th Century when popes were criticized for giving their nephews cushy jobs like being a Cardinal.
Crony first appeared, as far as I can tell from a quick Google search, in England sometime in the early 1600s and is derived from the Greek word Khrons, which means “long term.” Basically, crony is a long term friend. Sometime in the early 1900s, though, crony was extended to cronyism and that evolved into the infamous practice of giving jobs to long term friends instead of, perhaps, someone more qualified.
The difference is nepotism is giving favoritism to family, while cronyism is giving the same to friends. As you can see, the names have been around for about ever, and the practice probably dates back to when Christ picked his disciples.
And for as long, I bet there has been rhetoric aimed at those in power who engage in either or both nefarious practices.
For not nearly as long, and not nearly as adamantly as the self-righteous opponents, I’ve defended them.
Which is why I applaud the 25 Albany County legislators who voted against the “anti-nepotism” idea that was proposed only to give sponsors a talking point headed into this election season. Politically, it took some guts to vote against it, because it does sounds so good on paper.
But, not if you think about it for a second. Say you’re a county executive, for example, or any elected official with the discretion to hire people. Who are you going to hire? A longtime friend or family member, someone you know and trust, or someone off the street with a nice resume?
A person is elected by popular vote to do a job, and how they do that job, or who they get to assist them in doing the job they were elected to do, is up to the person who was elected.
Obviously, there are some checks and balances like budget lines and different branches of government to make sure the same county executive, for example, doesn’t create dozens of six-figure positions for every third cousin within a 50-mile radius.
But, if the county executive is willing to take the political heat for hiring his boyhood friend as his chief of staff, or if a supervisor wants to hire a political party loyalist to head up the Department of Public Works, I don’t see a problem with it. The money is already allocated to go somewhere so why not give the job to someone you know or someone who helped you get elected?
(As an aside, Frank Mauriello, the Republican minority leader running for supervisor in Colonie, did challenge incumbent Paula Mahan to implement the same in the town but she, wisely, didn’t take the bait.)
If the people hired don’t help the elected official do their job then the elected official is put out of office.
Yes, I know that’s an ideological, perhaps naïve, way of looking at things, but the Albany County legislation wouldn’t do much to change things even if it did pass.
It defines a family member as a “spouse, child, stepchild, parent or stepparent, sibling or stepsibling, grandparent or grandchild” and would prevent the hiring of an elected official in and for Albany County or his or her family member for any position exempt from civil service during or after that elected official’s term of office is prohibited for the period of the current term of office should he or she resign said office and for a period of four years from the date of conclusion of the term of office.”
It wouldn’t even address people like Jack Flynn, a distant relative to County Executive Dan McCoy recently elected to chair the Albany County Democratic Party who was fired from his position at the Board of Elections and then quickly hired by Sheriff Craig Apple making the same amount of money.
He is the epitome of nepotism and cronyism. It’s out there and if people don’t like it don’t vote for McCoy, or Apple.
More significantly, outside of a handful of appointed jobs, the great majority of all municipal positions are covered by the civil service law and the county legislators and elected officials have little or no say in who is hired through that process.
Of those they can control, to the victor go the spoils.
Jim Franco can be reached at 878-1000 or by email at email@example.com.