Assembly Democrats stick by Sheldon Silver, Mayor DeBlasio calls him “man of integrity”

Jaffee, Zebrowski and Skoufis have not distanced themselves from Speaker Silver 

As the charges against New York Speaker of the Assembly Sheldon Silver were laid out by US Attorney Preet Bharara, New York Democrats found themselves in a conundrum. The 2015 legislative session had just begun and Silver remained the unquestioned leader of the Assembly. Would the Democrats maintain their support?

After conferring, Assembly Democrats have formed a consensus opinion to remain in support of Speaker Silver’s leadership. Local Democratic assemblypersons Ellen Jaffee, James Skoufis and Kenneth Zebrowski have made no comments repudiating or distancing themselves from Silver’s leadership.

Jaffee told the Rockland County Times, “All of us, including the Speaker of the Assembly, are entitled to due process…I must continue to focus on the business of government and my responsibilities to my constituents.”

Bharara has accused Silver of improperly collecting millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks through the law firm Weitz & Luxenberg. The federal government has seized $3.8 million in Silver’s assets as a result.

Bharara said in a press conference, “Speaker Silver never did any actual legal work. He simply sat back and collected millions of dollars by cashing in on his public office and political influence…Politicians are supposed to be on the people’s payroll, not on secret retainer to wealthy special interests they do favors for.”

The 70-year-old speaker could face a 100-year prison term if the five counts against him, including bribery and conspiracy, are proven true in court. Silver has vowed to fight the charges, which his lawyer Joel Cohen called “meritless.”

Majority Leader Joseph Morelle said on behalf of a majority of Democrats in the Assembly, “I’m continuing to support the speaker. We have every confidence that the speaker is going to continue to fulfill his role with distinction.”

The majority leader said he and the Democratic conference believe Silver deserves a presumption of innocence.

New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio said, “Although the charges announced today are certainly very serious, I want to note that I’ve always known Shelly Silver to be a man of integrity, and he certainly has due rights and I think that we should let the process play out here.”

However, others say the real reason Democrats are maintaining their support is they fear him, particularly now that he will be dealing with the FBI. Orangetown Town Council candidate Chris Smith, one of the few local Dems to blast Silver since his arrest this morning, suggested via social media that the real reason Democrats are lining up behind him is “he knows all their skeletons and if they sold Silver out he would rat them all out.”

Rockland County Democratic Committee Executive Director Ted Collins had recently called for the resignation of County Legislator Frank Sparaco (R) after he was charged with petition fraud for submitting a ballot with allegedly two bad addresses on it. Collins has yet to make a statement regarding the considerably worse charges facing Silver and whether he should also resign.

The NYGOP blasted Democrats for their supportive statements of Silver. Spokesman David Laska said, “Assembly Democrats’ continued support for Sheldon Silver in the wake of such outrageous corruption charges is beyond embarrassing: it shames our entire state.”

Newly sworn in Assemblyman Karl Brabenec (R) called for Silver’s resignation. The rep for parts of the Town of Ramapo and several towns in Orange County said, “The people of New York State deserve better than to have a federally indicted speaker of the Assembly. It’s my hope that today’s news will motivate my fellow members to bring Sheldon Silver’s 20-plus year career of corruption to an end by electing a new speaker as soon as possible.”

As did Rockland County GOP Chairman Lawrence Garvey, “Mr. Silver’s alleged violations of the public trust are astounding in both their breath and brazenness. What is even more disturbing are the reports that the Moreland Commission may have been disbanded just as it started to investigate Mr. Silver’s ‘business activities.’ The abrupt disbanding of that committee is testament to the depth of corruption in New York State politics. Governor Cuomo’s assassination of the Moreland Commission, just as it started to bear fruit, should be the U.S. Attorney’s next area of investigation. Former Gubernatorial Candidate Rob Astorino raised this very issue throughout his campaign only to be attacked by the governor.”

Bharara has vowed to continue investigating corruption in New York politics following the hasty disbandment of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s so-called anti-corruption Moreland Commission last year. Many  have speculated that Cuomo disbanded the commission because it began touching too close to home regarding the activities of New York Democrats.

Prior to the bribery allegations Silver had faced charges of covering up sexual harrassment of female Assembly staffers in 2013.