Silver Can’t Escape Gropegate’s Clutches
This week was supposed to be a positive turn in the political spotlight for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who’ll be heading up the New York delegation while it’s in Charlotte, NC for the Democratic National Convention.
But since news of Assemblyman Vito Lopez’s sexual harassment scandal broke on Aug. 24 – the Friday before the Republicans gathered for their convention in Tampa – Silver has been increasingly under fire.
This will be the speaker’s first public appearance since he abruptly announced Lopez had been censured and stripped of his seniority after the bipartisan legislative ethics committee found the Brooklyn Democrat had made unwanted verbal and physical advances toward several young female staffers.
It’s a safe bet he’ll be hounded by LCA members desperate for some headlines in the midst of what otherwise will likely be a tightly scripted and news-free event.
Over the past week, things have gone downhill quickly for both Lopez, who announced he won’t be seeking re-election as Brooklyn Democratic chairman, but has refused to heed calls to resign his Assembly seat; and Silver, who was revealed to have negotiated a secret settlement of $103,000 worth of taxpayer cash with two women whose harassment claims against Lopez pre-dated those sent to the ethics committee.
The women also received $32,000 from Lopez himself, according to the New York Times, which says the accuses split their $135,000 settlement cash with two different law firms – one of which is home to high-profile LA attorney Gloria Allred.
Now investigations are about to be launched by both JCOPE and Staten Island DA Dan Donovan (a special prosecutor appointed to handle the case at the request of Brooklyn DN Charlie Hynes, who’s too tied to Lopez to do the job himself). State AG Eric Schneiderman and state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli have also been sucked into the Gropegate vortex.
The Assembly Democrats are furious with Lopez, particularly the downstaters who fear his scandal will cost them their long-awaited legislative pay raise.
(One source suggested Gov. Andrew Cuomo will eventually come around on the raise, because he wants to be able to bump up his own commissioners’ bottom lines, but will make lawmakers pay a higher price for it. What that might be is anyone’s guess).
But, generally speaking, the majority conference is standing by Silver – for now. If some other development materializes, however, all bets are off.
“Assuming everything we know now is all there is, and there are no smoking guns, I think he’s fine at the end of the day,” an Assembly Democrat told me earlier today. “The members will rally around him…If something else happens, then I just don’t know.”
There has been some nascent talk – among both rank-and-file members and reporters – about whether this might spell the end for Silver – the longest-serving legislative leader in Albany who’s just under four years shy of breaking Oswald D. Heck’s record of the longest-serving speaker in New York history.
So far, Silver doesn’t appear in any danger of losing his seat because of this scandal, in no small part due to the fact that there’s no obvious successor waiting in the wings. (A situation the speaker has actively cultivated).
Much depends on the roughly three dozen Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus members, many of whom stood with Silver when he deflected a 2000 coup attempt by former Assemblyman Michael Bragman.
Several members told me privately that Silver could have a problem if Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries wasn’t poised to depart for Congress after winning the June 26 primary for retiring Rep. Ed town’s seat.
The popular Brooklyn lawmaker is well-regarded in Democratic circles in Albany, New York City and D.C. and might have been able to gather sufficient support to take out Silver.
Others mentioned as potential speaker candidates include Assemblyman Joe Lentol, who’s likely too close to Silver to want to act, and Assemblyman Keith Wright, who’s probably too close to Gov. Andrew Cuomo (he was recently tapped to serve as co-chair of the state Democratic Party) to be acceptable to the conference at large.
And what about Cuomo? It has been speculated since before he took office in 2011 that he might want to clip Silver’s wings – if not get rid of him outright.
Neither of those things occurred. Instead, Silver and Cuomo entered into an uneasy pas-de-trois, with Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos serving alternately as the third wheel or preferred partner for the governor – depending on the day.
“I think Andrew wants leverage so he can get what Andrew wants,” the Assembly Democrat told me.
“Wouldn’t the governor rather have a wounded speaker to continue to work with?…That’s what I would want: A wounded, less influential, less powerful speaker who can round up votes, but can’t push back.”
Mechanically speaking, the Legislature would have to be in session to take out the speaker. (Bragman tried unsuccessfully to change the rules so the speaker serves at the pleasure of the body, but since that failed, he still has two-year terms).
Silver’s term is up at the end of the year, and the speakership vote is generally held some time after the November election.
While it doesn’t appear likely any candidate to replace Silver would be able to put together sufficient votes to oust him at the moment, there’s a lot of turnover occurring in the Assembly Democratic conference this year, and the new members won’t have any longstanding loyalties.
Then again, a significant number of the Democratic candidates are being supported by DACC – the Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee – and aren’t likely to forget who brung them to the Albany dance once they get there.
|Print article||This entry was posted by Liz Benjamin on September 2, 2012 at 2:41 pm, and is filed under 2012 DNC, Assembly, Democrats, Sheldon Silver, Uncategorized. Follow any responses to this post through RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.|