Silver’s Swan Song: State Democrats finally turn on embattled speaker Sheldon Silver

BY MICHAEL RICONDA

sheldon-silver_NYer42_375New York State Democrats were placed in a difficult position by the arrest of Assembly Speaker and Democratic Party heavy Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) on federal corruption charges last Thursday. Now, they must take their first steps forward from their most recent political setback.

Silver resigned from his position as speaker on Tuesday night, but opted to remain in the Assembly in spite of growing calls from his Democratic colleagues, who initially said they would support his leadership. The lawmaker from the lower East Side, who has been speaker for almost 21 years, has remained publicly adamant about his refusal to step down.

“I will be a member of this house,” Silver said. “I was elected by my constituents. I do not intend to resign my seat in this house.”

Silver is accused by crusading US Attorney Preet Bharara of using his post to solicit $4 million in kickbacks since 2000.

Late Tuesday night, Assembly Democrats held a closed-door meeting to discuss the matter and seemed to agree the future of the party did not lie with Silver. Following the meeting, Assemblyman Joseph Morelle (D-Rochester/Monroe County) announced that Silver would either step down or be removed on Monday. Morelle will serve as an interim speaker until a vote for a permanent replacement is held on February 10.

Morelle also indicated that behind closed doors, Silver appeared undecided on whether or not he would voluntarily leave the State Legislature. Though Silver has maintained his innocence, he stated he “will not impede the process” and would accept any decision by his party’s majority.

With Silver’s reign nearing an end, the search for his successor will soon begin. Possible candidates include Carl Heastie (D-The Bronx), Cathy Nolan (D-Queens) and Joe Lentol (D-Brooklyn). It seems likely that whichever candidate is chosen, it will be a member from New York City.

The candidate pool is likely to please Mayor Bill DeBlasio, who lost a powerful ally when Silver was arrested on five criminal charges related to his alleged acceptance of $4 million in kickbacks from firms seeking influence in Albany over the course of 15 years. Silver was largely sympathetic to DeBlasio’s progressive agenda in the city and his ousting could prove problematic for the mayor’s ambitions.

Though he has not gone so far as to call for Silver’s resignation and insists he is merely observing the process rather than lobbying for a specific replacement, DeBlasio did indicate that he wants Silver’s successor to be a city man with the Big Apple’s interests in mind.

“It’s been tough enough to get our fair share even with a speaker from New York City, so one can imagine that with someone from outside, it might be even harder,” DeBlasio said.

When Silver’s arrest was first announced last Thursday, DeBlasio was criticized for referring to him as a “man of integrity.” Democrats had initially lined up behind Silver, but increasing heat and details about the charges against the speaker ultimately led to a collapse in his support.

Likewise, Governor Andrew Cuomo has stated he has not made an attempt to influence the decision, though he also stands to lose from the powerful alliance he had built with Silver.

Indications from Cuomo and DeBlasio run counter to claims from Lentol, who attended the six-hour meeting during which the Democrats molled over Silver’s fate. Lentol said he had received calls and texts from several people close to the two high-profile Democrats, but maintained the decision on Silver’s replacement would be made by the Assembly, not outsiders.

“We don’t need the governor and mayor telling us who our next speaker is,” Lentol reportedly stated during the meeting.