Sheldon Silver

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.”

Democrats Unite To Honor de Blasio

They’re just one big, happy Democratic family.

All of the state’s top elected Democratic officials will unite on Jan. 5 to host a breakfast at Gracie Mansion on Jan. 5. to celebrate the inauguration of New York City’s new mayor, Bill de Blasio.

An invitation to what is officially being billed as an “inauguration committee breakfast,” lists Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer, state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, AG Eric Schneiderman, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, IDC Leader Jeff Klein, NYC Comptroller-elect Scott Stringer and NYC Public Advocate-elect Tish James as the hosts of the event.

The breakfast will take place form 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. at Gracie on Sunday, Jan. 5 – four days after de Blasio is sworn into office at City Hall.

The Second Most Powerful Democrat in New York State

For now at least, it would seem that Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is firmly in control of the Democratic Conference in the Asssembly and by extension, his leadership position.

It wasn’t an overwhelmingly well attended welcome reception that Silver hosted with Asssemblyman Felix Ortix last night here in San Juan, but there were enough members representing enough geographic diversity to make clear that not much has changed since the band was last all together in Albany back in June.

Queens Assemblyman David Weprin said that the speaker has “100 percent support” in the conference, and while that might have been a tad generous, he was not alone in his assessment. Assemblyman Tom Abinanti echoed the sentiment,

“I don’t think there is any wavering in support for the Speaker. He’s done what we wanted him to do which is bring us together, cone up with a budget we can live with ands the Assembly passed a lot of good bills last year. not all of them became law, but t he Assembly was able to come together and pass a whole agEdna, very good pieces of legislation for the state of New York.”

Silver, who might actually be a perpetually reincarnated superhero, never seems to lose his control of this conference.

Last spring it was the women assembly members who steadfastly stood by him as the messy Vito Lopez affair unloaded on his watch. Then we learned about another case where harassment complaints were made, this time against Micah Kellner, a Manhattan Democrat, and NEW questions arose about how the speaker handled them.

We haven’t heard much from Silver or the members since then on this matter, though we do know Kellner will be returning to Albany, since he NYC Council bid failed this fall.

One assemblywoman who was here last night probably summed it up perfectly when she told me “no one talks to each other, ” when it comes to the Assembly leadership. She added, “besides, who would take over?!? There is no one.”

That feeling also seems pervasive if not universal.

However, if we have learned anything from how City Council speaker races are decided, sometimes it’s not the individual members who make leadership decisions but the county chairs who tell them how to vote. Tonight the Democratic chairs of all five NYC boroughs will be having dinner together at Ruth’s Chris steakhouse in San Juan. Among the topics expected to be discussed is the future leadership of the Assembly speakership.

Because as one source noted, “20 years is a long time.”

Cuomo Calls Rapfogel Charges ‘Disturbing’, Won’t Opine On Silver’s Future

Gov. Andrew Cuomo today called the charges that former Met Council Executive Director Willie Rapfogel stole millions of dollars from the New York City-based nonprofit “disturbing,” but he declined to say whether the scandal should be the straw that finally breaks the back of Shelly Silver’s Assembly speakership.

Speaking to reporters following an event in the North Country, Cuomo also praised someone with whom he hasn’t always seen eye-to-eye – state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman – for his handling of the Rapfogel case. He made no mention of state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, who is also playing a role in this investigation.

“The accusations and admissions thus far are truly disturbing, and the attorney general, I think, is doing the right thing, and he should pursue the matter,” Cuomo said. “…It should be pursued to the fullest extent of the law. There’s no doubt it’s very troubling on a number of levels.”

Asked whether lawmakers who received campaign contributions from Century Coverage Corporation, the Met Council’s insurance broker that conspired with Rapfogel to pad the nonprofit’s insurance payments and donate the cash to favored political candidates, Cuomo replied: “That’s up to each individual lawmaker.”

As he has numerous times before, Cuomo insisted that the decision about whether to keep Silver, who has been friends with Rapfogel for over four decades and employs his wife, Judy, as his chief of staff, as speaker rests solely with the Assembly Democrats.

“The speaker is elected by the Assembly and it’s really up to them what they decide,” the governor said. “They pick the leader, so the consequences will be determined the Assembly – if any.”

Piling On

From the Capital Tonight morning memo:

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver could have used this week off probably.

Instead it kicked off with William Rapfogel, a key political ally in the non-profit community and husband of Silver aide Judy, getting fired from his job as CEO of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty under a cloud of a criminal investigation from the offices of Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Comptroller Tom DiNapoli (the latter of whom is a former assemblyman who Silver pushed to receive the job following the resignation of Alan Hevesi).

Silver in a statement yesterday said he was both stunned and saddened by the news that Rapfogel would be under some sort of suspicion for financial malfeasance. Without admitting anything specifically, Rapfogel himself apologized for vague “mistakes” he made while the CEO of the organization.

And while the first inclination among some Silver detractors is to think the scandal must be tied back to the speaker somehow, it was reported yesterday that Rapfogel is being investigated for possible improper campaign finance donations to mayoral candidates in New York City.

With the whiff of scandal in the air, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn immediately returned her Rapfogel cash, her campaign told The Daily News.

But Rapfogel story still remains a bad one for Silver, given the largesse of state contracts that have been sent to the Met Council over the years — more than $16.5 million.

The latest scandal only provides more fodder for the speaker’s critics, who are seemingly looking for any excuse to score a few points off the taciturn Manhattan Democrat.

On Sunday, The New York Post re-reported a five-year-old story that first appeared in the now-defunct New York Sun that Silver uses his taxpayer-funded flying time to take a roundabout way home to New York City in order to pick up the frequent flier miles.

Nevermind it’s an old story (the Post isn’t usually one to admit it’s been scooped). Two Assembly Republicans on Monday — one of which is potential gubernatorial candidate Steve McLaughlin — sent a letter to Silver asking that he donate the flier points to charity.

Despite its mold, the frequent flier story is a fun one, given that it highlights a particularly absurd brand of cheapskatery that’s akin to spending hours a day clipping coupons for jumbo-sized mouthwash. It’s an added bonus the Silver is a millionaire, likely several times over.

But the tab’s Sunday story, the McLaughlin letter, the Rapfogel inquiry and then a Democratic Assembly candidate calling on Silver to quit represent a new phase of piling on the embattled speaker at a time that he’s never been more vulnerable after two — two! — sexual harassment scandals from lawmakers have hit the chamber in the last year.

Fake Shelly Silver — the bitingly funny parody Twitter account — may yawn at candidate Haille Rivera’s call, but it’s a potential signal for other candidates come 2014 to distance themselves from him.

Indeed, the only person who is seemingly not piling on at this point is Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who publicly at least is staying above it all.

Yesterday in a radio interview (and right before the Rapfogel news broke), the governor broke out a stock line when it comes to Silver: “It’s not my place, frankly, to take a position.”

Whether this can hold through 2014 remains to be seen.

Silver Stunned And Saddened By Rapfogel News

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver says he is both stunned and saddened by the news of the investigation surrounding his longtime ally William Rapfogel.

Rapfogel, the husband of Silver aide Judy Rapfogel, was fired today by the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Povery as a criminal investigation from Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman was underway.

The Met Council has been the recipient of millions of dollars in state funds over the years, with $16.5 million in active contracts with the state.

Rapfogel is a major powerbroker with city politics.

Silver’s full statement:

I am stunned and deeply saddened by this news. While there is still much that we don’t know, we do know that the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty has given tens of thousands of New Yorkers of all faiths and backgrounds lifesaving help over the past four decades. Met Council also played a critical role helping our communities recover from Superstorm Sandy, and its work should in no way be diminished by these developments.

Earlier in the day, Rapfogel released a statement apologizing for unspecified “mistakes” he’s led in leading the organization as its CEO.

Silver’s Income Revealed: As Much As $450K

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver earned between $350,000 and $450,000 in his capacity as counsel to powerhouse law firm Weitz and Luxenberg, his financial disclosure form released today revealed.

At the same time, Silver has stock or jointly owns shares with his wife in more than 60 companies, including Exxon Mobile, American Express, Verizon Communications, Inc., Anheuser-Busch. The stock ranges from communications and digital companies to pharmaceuticals and the banking industry.

Silver also owns at least $5,000 in stock of Time Warner Cable, YNN’s parent company.

Silver sold as much as $150,000 worth of stock in the Ford Motor Company in the last year. The stock was jointly owned with his wife.

It had been long speculated how much the longtime speaker of the Assembly is worth and how much he earns at his law firm.

The new financial disclosure report also revealed that Silver is a licensed notary with the Secretary of State.

Lawmakers in the technically part-time Legislature earn a base pay of $79,500. Silver also earns $43,000 in extra pay for his job as speaker.

Taken together, Silver earned as much as $725,000 in the last year, not counting the sale of less value stock.

Assemblymember Speaker Silver by Nick Reisman