Sheldon Silver

Six Lawsuits Filed Against Former Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak

Six women who worked as legislative aides for former Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak filed sexual harassment lawsuits in State Supreme Court Thursday, seeking tens of millions of dollars in damages from the state, according to official court documents.

Besides the Assemblyman, all six lawsuits name Gabryszak’s former Chief of Staff, Adam Locher, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver as defendants.

The complaints include everything from taking a staffer to a massage parlor in Albany, making inappropriate comments about the female anatomy, and attempting to have aides share a hotel room with him on business trips – among other allegations.

Gabryszak retired from office in January after the sexual harassment complaints became public. He claims the allegations are false.

A seventh staffer is also expected to file a lawsuit, but in federal court.

Silver, Libous Dip Into Campaign Accounts To Pay Legal Bills

The filings posted this week by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Deputy Senate Republican Leader Tom Libous show both lawmakers have used their campaign funds over the last six months to pay legal bills.

Silver, being sued over his handling of the Vito Lopez sexual harassment case, spent $30,000 fees with the firm Stroock, Stroock & Lavin.

Records show Silver last year spent $135,000 in legal fees with the firm, which also represented him in 2004 when faced questions over a discounted hotel suite in Las Vegas.

Silver rasied $183,455 in the last six months, and has $2.9 million in cash on hand.

Libous, a Binghamton Republican who faces a charge of lying to the FBI stemming from allegations he helped secure his son a job at a politically connected law firm, spent a combined $57,750 at three separate firms.

That includes $20,000 to the firm of Albany attorney and TWC News legal analyst Paul DerOhannesian, who is representing Libous in the trial.

Libous raised $313,321 since January and has $718,477 in cash on hand.

Silver: Cuomo Has Legitimate Concerns On Med Mar

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver believes Gov. Andrew Cuomo has raised legitimate issues with medicinal marijuana legalization and added negotiations continue “in good faith.”

“I think he’s negotiating in good faith,” Silver said in an interview. “I have no doubt about it. His concerns are legitimate concerns. They may not be shared by others, but they are legitimate concerns.”

Cuomo remains opposed to the Compassionate Care Act as its written now. The governor sought changes to the legislation that ultimately led to lawmakers amending the bill so more power is given to the Health Department to oversee a program as well as a ban on smoking medical pot in public.

But Cuomo continues to have a cautious outlook on the bill, saying at a news conference that it’s “tough to put the genie back in the bottle” on medical marijuana.

Cuomo and lawmakers earleir today announced an agreement on bills that would stem heroin addiction and abuse.

“I think he has a concern about it in terms of today we came to an agreement on a heroin package,” Silver said. “The governor believes extensive use of marijuana leads to further addictions.”

Silver, meanwhile, continues to support his own version of a 25 mph speed limit for New York City.

Sen. Jeff Klein’s measure for the 25 mph limit has the support of New York City officials after the city Council approved a home-rule message backing the Bronx lawmaker’s bill.

“We’re holding the other one on the floor if the Senate is more comfortable with the other one,” Silver said. “If there is no home rule and no agreement with the Senate, we’ll pass the first bill for sure.”

Silver Slaps Kellner Again

After informing reporters that a revised policy for handling sexual harassment cases has been completed, Assembly Speaker Silver announced this afternoon that he has again admonished and disciplined scandal-scarred Assemblyman Micah Kellner for failing to adhere to a no-intern rule instituted following an investigation that found he sexually harassed members of his staff.

Silver said he is fully implementing the recommendations of the Assembly Ethics and Guidance Committee, which called for further sanctions against Kellner after he was found to have violated the terms of a Dec. 30, 2013 Letter of Admonition that directed him not to have interns in his office.

The committee also found that Kellner, an Upper East Side Democrat who has been fighting the initial sanctions lodged against him, attempted to obstruct a climate survey mandated by the Dec. 30 letter and engaged in additional sexual harassment beyond the matters that were the subject of the 2013 investigation.

As a result, Silver will reduce Kellner’s staff allocation to 0 at the end of June, and also has directed that the assemblyman’s Albany and district offices be closed. In addition, Silver said he admonishes and severely reprimands Kellner on behalf of his Assembly colleagues and declared “that his conduct with respect to these matters violates the Assembly’s policies on sexual harassment and is inconsistent with the standards of conduct to which Members of the Assembly should be held.”

Silver’s actions are a bit moot, since Kellner will be leaving office at the end of the year. He lost a bid for the NYC Council last year, and then announced in February that he wouldn’t be seeking re-election to his Assembly seat, either. The NY Observer recently reported that Kellner may run for an obscure state committee post in an effort to re-start his stalled political career.

Speaker Silver admonishes Assemblyman Kellner – again. by liz_benjamin6490

Silver Boosts Democratic Senate

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on Thursday called for a Democratic takeover of the state Senate, saying the current arrangement in the chamber has bottled up key reforms.

Silver, speaking to reporters after a breakfast to kick off the final day of the state Democratic Convention, pointed to the Dream Act and a statewide system of publicly financed campaigns as issues he’d like to see approved in the Senate.

“I think a lot of those are the issues we’ve stood for that have been stymied stand a better shot” with a Democratic Senate, Silver said.

The Senate is currently led by a coalition of five independent Democrats and Senate Republicans.

The IDC has pointed to a number of key victories they’ve been able to approved in the chamber under the coalition arrangement, including a package of gun control laws in 2013.

A Siena poll found most voters back the power-sharing agreement in the Senate.

But other liberal measures have faltered, including the Dream Act, which provides tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants and the full women’s agenda, which includes a provision aimed at strengthening the state’s abortion laws.

“The leadership refuses to allow a true vote to take place,” Silver said of the Dream Act, which failed earlier this year in the Senate after not receiving enough votes.

He added he believes enough votes are in the Senate for the Dream Act to pass.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who didn’t approve a full takeover the Senate by Democrats in 2012, in April made a forceful push for the Dream Act, as well as the women’s agenda and public financing at a rally for the Democratic Rural Conference.

Cuomo faces skepticism from liberal advocates on whether he truly wants those measures to pass the Legislature, especially public financing.

Silver insisted Cuomo supports them, and once again urged the Working Families Party to endorse him for re-election.

He added a Democratic Senate would support Cuomo’s second-term agenda.

“He’s battled for reform. He’s battled for campaign finance reform,” Silver said. “He’s battled for the Dream Act. This is why we need a change in the Senate to achieve some of those things.”

Silver Sees No Upside To WFP Challenge To Cuomo

As yet another poll shows Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s re-election margin being hurt by a liberal Working Families Party candidate, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said the party can’t expect the governor to win on every legislative issue.

“I think they have no choice,” Silver said this morning at a breakfast for Comptroller Tom DiNapoli. “He’s been right on the issues. He’s had the progressive issues. He can’t succeed on everything. The only thing with them – he’s a victim of his success.”

Indeed, Cuomo himself has pointed to a raft of socially liberal measures he’s achieved since taking office in 2011, including the legalization of same-sex marriage and a sweeping gun control measure approved last year.

Still, the labor-backed Working Families Party remains restive over the governor’s fiscal agenda.

The WFP has not ruled out granting its ballot line to another candidate, and have been pushing Cuomo in recent weeks to have state lawmakers pass a broader public financing system than what was approved in the state budget in March.

Silver added that a stand-alone WFP candidacy would only help Cuomo’s GOP opponent, Rob Astorino.

“He has tried. Believe me, I’ve been at meetings where he has tried to get public financing,” Silver said. “You don’t throw out someone good for someone who might be perfect.”

Silver was not bullish on the chances of a broader public financing measure passing by the end of the legislative session in June.

“I don’t see it,” Silver said, citing Republican opposition to the proposal.

Silver Anniversary

Twenty years ago today, Manhattan Democrat Sheldon Silver became the speaker of the Assembly, tapped for the post by his colleagues following the death of Speaker Saul Weprin, who had died earlier that day.

In the time since, Silver has had a profound — and controversial — impact on state government and New York politics.

Nearly removed in a leadership coup in 2000, Silver punished the ringleaders, including Syracuse Assemblyman Michael Bragman.

But Democratic lawmakers say Silver became more attentive to the needs and concerns of the rank-and-file in the conference. Indeed, many longtime Democrats allied with the speaker insist the members drive the agenda, not the other way around.

He has been viewed as the main roadblock to a host of legislative reforms, only to find ways to get what he wants after playing an effective long game.

During the much of the Pataki administration, Silver was the most prominent elected Democrat in state government, and was hailed by liberals for holding out for a more progressive agenda.

At the same time, while the Senate has been a more voluble political powder keg, Silver’s Assembly has been a relatively stable entity despite its regional and racial factions.

Silver’s anniversary was noted today by Court of Appeals Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, a close longtime friend of Silver’s.

As long as I have the support of my colleagues, working with them, bringing about consensus in the Assembly, I think we’ve accomplished great things,” Silver told me after Lippman’s address.

I asked Silver about whether 20 years is too long for anyone to remain in a position of power like the leader of the Assembly. After all, the Senate has created a system of term limits for legislative leaders.

“I think we have term limits every two years we face election,” Silver said. “Members of the Legislature do in both houses and there has been significant turnover.

Silver’s tenure has been rocked in recent months by allegations of sexual harassment by members of the conference, including Assemblyman Micah Kellner, former Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak and the once powerful Assemblyman Vito Lopez.

Despite rumblings that he’ll be replaced because of the scandals, Silver’s hold on power remains.

The record for the longest serving speaker remains held by Oswald D. Heck, who was speaker from 1937 through 1959.

Silver, Nolan Call for Common Core Delay

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Assembly Education Committee Chairwoman Cathy Nolan today called for a two-year delay – “at minimum” – in using Common Core test results for “high-stakes” decisions for teachers, principals and students.

Silver and Nolan said in a statement that “New Yorkers share the same goal – to improve our schools and help prepare our students to be successful and college and career ready upon graduation.”

But given the concerns raised over the controversial new curriculum, particularly in connection with the use of test data in teacher evaluations, the Democratic lawmakers said it would be both “prudent” and “wise” to put the brakes on.

At the same time, they said, the state Education Department should “continue to develop Common Core aligned curricula and assist local school districts in developing their own curricula” so teachers will successfully be able to instruct and assist students in reaching their maximum potential.

This is a victory of sorts for NYSUT, which has been pushing for a three-year moratorium, and also for the union’s embattled president, Dick Iannuzzi, who is facing a challenge to his leadership by a UFT-backed slate that includes his own No. 2, Andy Pallotta.

Up to this point, Silver has held off on making any definitive pronouncements on how to proceed on the hot-button topic of Common Core, even as many of his members and his political allies (ie: NYSUT) have been clamoring for a moratorium.

Silver made it clear that he believed the case had been made for a delay of implementing the Common Core standards, but also said he wanted to wait and see what a subcommittee set up by Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch to address this issue came up with.

The subcommittee has not yet reported back, but is expected to do so as early as next Monday.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo also waited for months while the Common Core controversy swirled before getting involved himself, finally weighing in during his budget address last month.

Cuomo said he supports the Common Core agenda, but believes the way it has been implemented by SED is “flawed.” He called for creation of a special advisory panel that would recommend “corrective action” to be acted upon by the Legislature before the end of this session.

Some lawmakers, including Senate Education Committee Chairman John Flanagan, criticized Cuomo’s plan, saying action on Common Core cannot wait any longer.

Last week, senators hammered state Education Commissioner John King over Common Core at a hearing during which they pledged to take action themselves if SED doesn’t do so ASAP.

Silver and Nolan also noted the “persistent questions” and security concerns about SED’s plans to share student data with a private, third-arty vendor charged with setting up a database of this information.

“SED should delay the use of inBloom or any third party vendor in developing a ‘data portal’ until all these questions have been answered and the concerns fully satisfied,” they said.

SED officials announced last month that they had delayed the upload of student data to the Atlanta-based inBloom until at least April, due to technical complications.

Silver Sees Need For ‘Slower’ Common Core Implementation

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver told reporters in Albany on Tuesday there should be a slower implementation of the Common Core standards, but declined to say if there should be a legislative fix to its issues.

Rather, the speaker said he is waiting to see the implementation recommendations from the state Board of Regents.

“At first blush we’d like to see a sensible implementation plan from the Board of Regents,” Silver said, adding: “I await their determination. I think it’s something that belongs in the purview of the Regents.”

Asked if he backed Education Commissioner John King, Silver said he did, adding he also “has confidence” in Regents Chancellor Meryl Tisch.

State United Teachers President Dick Iannuzzi last week on Capital Tonight said he would call for a vote of no confidence against King over concerns stemming from Common Core’s implementation and mandated testing requirements.

As always, education spending will again be one of the more hotly debated items in the state budget. Gov. Andrew Cuomo is due to release his budget proposal next Tuesday.

Silver indicated he would like to see education spending rise beyond the 4 percent like it has in the last two budget years.

“I think our goal is to get as much money as we can in a year that we hear money is available into the classroom,” Silver said. “I think we’ve lagged behind. We’ve made cuts in prior years when money wasn’t there. So I think now we should make up for some of those cuts.”

Cuomo in his State of the State address proposed a $2 billion bond act to pay for infrastructure and equipment upgrades. If approved by the Legislature, the bond proposal would go before voters this fall.

Cuomo To Kellner: Deny Allegations Or Resign

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has now weighed in on Assemblyman Micah Kellner’s sexual harassment scandal, calling on the Upper East Side Democrat to “immediately deny these allegations or resign.”

“The latest reports of sexual harassment in the Assembly should be the last straw,” Cuomo said in a statement.

“This pattern of behavior is repugnant by every standard and directly contradicts the policies the Assembly has advanced for the last 20 years.”

“Assemblymember Micah Kellner’s conduct, confirmed by the Assembly Ethics and Guidance Committee’s investigation, has no place in New York State government.”

Cuomo’s statement comes on the heels of an Ethics Committee report delivered yesterday to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver that found Kellner had created a hostile working environment in his legislative office by sexually harassing both male and female staffers.

Silver responded by stripping Kellner of his committee chairmanship, banning him from having interns and freezing his staff allocation, effectively preventing him from hiring in the future.

Cuomo also reiterated his call for Western New York Democratic Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak, who is also the subject of an Ethics Committee investigation, to either deny the sexual harassment allegations lodged against him by four female staffers or resign.

“If they do not resign,” Cuomo said of Kellner and Gabryszak, “the Assembly must send a clear message that they do not tolerate this abuse of women and should seriously consider moving to expel them if they seek to return this coming session.”

“Enough is enough. It’s a new year; let’s start with a clean slate.”